NGOs Accuse Saudi Gov of Infiltrating Wikipedia to Control Content

The Saudi Arabian government has been allegedly infiltrating the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia to control its editorial content, imprisoning two administrators in the process.

Two NGOs, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and SMEX, issued a joint statement accusing the Saudi government of infiltrating Wikipedia to control content about the country and apprehend those who contribute critical information about political prisoners.

The Saudi Arabian government infiltrated Wikipedia by recruiting the organization's highest-ranked administrators in the country…to control information about the country and prosecuting those who contributed critical information about political detainees." the joint statement said.

The two high-ranking Wikipedia administrators in question, Ossama Khalid and Ziyad al-Sofiani, were arrested by Saudi authorities in September 2020 and sentenced to 32 and 8 years in prison.

The NGOs also said that they had evidence of the Saudi government’s infiltration of the website per information from anonymous sources on the inside and the administrators who have been imprisoned.

This allegation comes just weeks after Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia, disclosed that it had banned 16 volunteers for having "conflicts of interest" while editing pages on the Middle East and North Africa regions.

Wikimedia also stated that it "was able to confirm that a number of users with close connections with external parties were editing the platform in a coordinated fashion to advance the aim of those parties."

In response to the findings by DAWN and SMEX, Wikimedia claimed that infiltration by the Saudi government is "unlikely to be the case," although it did acknowledge that some users "who may have been Saudi" were among those banned from the website.

However, Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN's Executive Director, argued that the reported Saudi penetration of Wikipedia illustrates "not only its persistent use of spies inside international organizations but the dangers of attempting to produce independent content in the country."

Another official from the NGO also said that the alleged infiltration "shows a terrifying glimpse of how the Saudi government seeks to control the narrative and Wikipedia."

Even though Wikimedia denied the allegations of the Saudi government infiltrating Wikipedia, there had been reports of Saudi attempts over the years to plant and recruit spies inside other companies with worldwide influence, with Twitter being a prime example, especially under its former management.

Last month, a former Twitter employee was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for spying for Saudi officials.

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