Wikipedia has been fined 2 million rubles ($24,464) by a Moscow court for an article in Russian language about the war in Ukraine titled “Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia region”.
(Image source – AP)
In another move by the Russian government to stifle objective reporting and limit access to information, a Moscow court on Thursday imposed a fine on Wikipedia for refusing to remove a Russian-language article about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Wikimpdia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates the freely editable online encyclopedia, was fined 2 million rubles ($24,464) by the court for its refusal to take down an article on Wikipedia titled “Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia region.”
This region is one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Russia annexed in September of the previous year, an act that has been widely condemned by most countries as illegal, along with Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
According to the state-owned Tass news agency, The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, was fined 2 million rubles ($24,464) for refusing to remove an article titled “Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia region” by a Moscow court. Russia’s state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, had demanded the removal of articles containing alleged “false information,” but Wikipedia’s representative argued the demand was vague.
In recent years, President Vladimir Putin has intensified his crackdown on criticism and factual reporting that does not align with his government’s views or official narratives. This crackdown has further escalated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, with a particular focus on suppressing information and dissent related to what Putin refers to as Russia’s “special military operation” in the neighboring country.
In an ongoing pattern of censorship and fines, the Russian government has attempted to limit Western news reports in Russia through Roskomnadzor, with varying degrees of success. Websites such as the BBC and Voice of America have been blocked, although some Russians have been able to access them using virtual private networks (VPNs).
Wikipedia has also faced fines for refusing to delete content related to the war in Ukraine. The Moscow court recently fined Wikipedia Foundation 800,000 rubles ($9,785) for failing to remove materials related to a song by the Russian rock band Psychea, which Russian authorities have classified as extremist.
In November 2022, Wikipedia was fined 2 million rubles for refusing to delete “false” information in seven Wikipedia articles about the “special military operation,” including details about atrocities in Bucha and the destruction of Mariupol’s theater.
In response, Wikipedia’s senior legal manager, Leighanna Mixter, stated on Thursday that the organization has not taken down the disputed content and will continue to challenge the rulings as they lack foundation. Mixter further noted that the “steady stream of takedown orders” received by Wikipedia challenge information that is well-sourced and compliant with Wikipedia’s policies, as vetted by volunteer editors who provide updated citations and information.
Leighanna Mixter, Wikipedia’s senior legal manager, confirmed that Wikipedia has two active appeals for fines related to takedown notices regarding the invasion of Ukraine. She further stated that the latest case does not present any new legal issues.Mixter stressed that these orders are a continuation of the Russian government’s efforts to limit the spread of reliable and well-sourced information within the country. She further asserted that Wikipedia would resist all attempts to curb free knowledge.
A Wikipedia page dedicated to the issue documents that Russian Wikipedia and its editors have faced increasing threats of nationwide blocks and country-wide blacklisting by the Russian government, as well as multiple attempts at censorship, propaganda dissemination, and disinformation since the early 2010s.
Tass reported that Roskomnadzor intends to label Wikipedia as a violator of Russian law in search engines, and additional actions against specific articles are planned.