On June 6, 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation, owner of Wikipedia, filed an appeal against a Moscow court order to remove prohibited information from articles about the war in Ukraine.
In their statement published on June 13, the Wikimedia Foundation argued that “the information at issue is fact-based and voluntarily verified…removing it would therefore constitute a violation of individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and access to knowledge”. Also, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia does not fall under Russian jurisdiction because it is a global resource available to everyone in the world.
Wikipedia has always been an easily accessible online source of information, bringing together information from hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world. It is regularly checked and its contributors take the time to properly verify the details they post. Therefore, Wikipedia is a credible source for documenting widely reported facts about the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s attempt to silence Wikipedia threatens to further harm ordinary Russian citizens who deserve to know about their government’s actions. The Wikimedia Foundation filing this appeal sends a clear message to the Russian government that it will not be deterred from disseminating accurate information, a commendable setback in the face of Russian aggression.
Threats of legal action from Russia arose shortly after the first attacks on Ukraine in late February 2022, when volunteers began posting information to the Russian Wikipedia detailing the events unfolding. Some of these items include Russian invasions of Ukraine (2022), Battle for Kyiv, War crimes during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bombing of the Mariupol hospital, Bombing of the Mariupol Theaterand Massacre at Bucha.
As early as March 1, 2022, Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency responsible for monitoring and censoring Russian mass media, sent a request to the Wikimedia Foundation “to remove content related to the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine posted by volunteer contributors to Russian Wikipedia”. However, the Wikimedia Foundation defended all of the articles mentioned, saying they centered on factual information. Later on March 31, Roskomnadzor published a statement confirming their actions to “remove inaccurate information about a special military operation of the RF Armed Forces in Ukraine, aimed at misinforming Russian users”. When the Wikimedia Foundation defended and refused to take down the articles, a Moscow court fined 5 million rubles (about $86,000) in April.
The legal value invoked by the Moscow court when imposing this fine came from a law enacted by President Putin in early March, which prohibits the dissemination of “false information about the activities of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. , according Kommersant, a Russian news source. Roskomnadzor argued that all of the previously mentioned Wikipedia articles contain prohibited information, and the Moscow court agreed with this conclusion.
This affair with Wikipedia is just one example in a larger problem where valuable information is blocked from Russian citizens in order to protect the government’s image and shape the narrative surrounding the invasion of Ukraine. Since early March, social media and news coverage have changed dramatically in Russia, with Twitter and Facebook being blocked and dozens of journalists being banned from the country.
As international news coverage becomes more difficult to access in Russia, it is essential that the Moscow court accept the Wikimedia Foundation’s appeal and allow its publications to continue in Russia. Russians must be accurately informed of their government’s continued attacks on a sovereign state, and Putin’s administration must be held accountable for its role in this war. If millions of people do not have access to the factual accounts of these recent events, it will be much more difficult to end the violence and begin to take steps towards negotiations.