Heavy prison sentences for two Wikipedia administrators in Saudi Arabia

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Heavy prison sentences for two Wikipedia administrators in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi artist paints a mural that depicts Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

Saudi authorities have 'infiltrated' Wikipedia and convicted two administrators from this participatory online encyclopedia to heavy prison sentences, human rights NGOs announced Thursday.

An investigation by the Wikimedia Foundation, parent company of Wikipedia, has revealed that the Saudi government has infiltrated the Wikipedia team in the region at the highest level, the NGOs Democracy for the Arab World Now said in a joint statement. (DAWN) and SMEX. The latter is based in Beirut.

Two Wikipedia administrators – volunteers with privileged access to the pages of the online encyclopedia in order to edit restricted pages for as many people as possible – were arrested in September 2020, they claim.

They are Ossama Khalid and Ziyad Al-Sofiani, according to these NGOs. They were respectively sentenced to 32 and 8 years in prison, said Abdoullah Alaoudh, director of research on the Gulf region for DAWN.

This NGO, based in Washington, was founded by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose 2018 assassination was blamed by US intelligence on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which Saudi authorities deny.

The arrests of Osama Khalid and Ziyad Al-Sofiani, on the one hand, and the infiltration of Wikipedia, on the other, show a terrifying glimpse of how the Saudi government seeks to control the narrative and Wikipedia, Alaoudh told AFP.

During this investigation, launched in January 2022, Wikimedia was able to confirm that a number of users close to external actors were modifying the platform in a coordinated way to advance the objectives of these actors, to x27;after the NGO press release.

Wikimedia mentions Saudis acting on behalf of the Saudi government, assure DAWN and SMEX, which rely on launchers of &x27; alert and trusted sources.

AFP could not immediately obtain comments either from the Saudi authorities or from Wikimedia, also the parent company from Wiktionary.

Last month, Wikimedia announced in a press release that it was banning from its educational platforms 16 users who presented conflicts of interest while editing projects [of pages] on Wikipedia in the Middle East and North Africa region.

These incidents occur shortly after following the December 15 sentencing by the United States of America of a former Twitter employee to three and a half years in prison for spying for Saudi officials.

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