Russia threatens to block access to Wikipedia

Wikipedia has already defended itself against the threat of an impending shutdown and made the letter from the supervisory authority public. EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH [SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA]

Russia’s media watchdog is threatening to block access to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia because of its entry on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns on free media coverage since the war broke out. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Russian leadership has tried to keep the flow of information about the war in check.

Russian media, for example, have been obliged to follow the Kremlin’s official line in their reporting, as they could otherwise face heavy fines or be shut down. The authorities have already closed down the several who refused to comply with the Kremlin’s “control of the narrative”.

Wikipedia is now in the sights of Russian media authority, Roskomnadzor, because Wikipedia’s Russian-language article on the war deviates from the Kremlin’s official account.

Wikipedia’s entry meticulously traces the course of the conflict and contains over 500 sources, some of which differ from Russia’s stance. Furthermore, the Wikipedia entry speaks of an “invasion” by Russia, while the Kremlin’s official line refers to a “military operation” for “peaceful purposes”.

The number of casualties cited in the entry also deviates from Moscow’s official account of the conflict because figures from the Ukrainian defence ministry, far higher than the Kremlin’s official figures, are also listed.

Featuring at the top of the Russian Wikipedia page with around three million hits, the entry of the Ukraine war appears quite irritating for Moscow.

According to the office of the Prosecutor General, this amounts to a violation that could ultimately lead to the blocking of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia’s response

Wikipedia has already defended itself against the threat of an impending shutdown and made the letter from the supervisory authority public.

The online encyclopaedia also announced it would take legal action against the threatened shutdown, although its chances of success in Russian courts, which are close to the state, are slim.

For this reason, Wikipedia has already published tips on how to circumvent the block.

Russia, meanwhile, is increasingly tightening its grip on freedom of expression.

According to the Moscow Times, the State Duma is preparing a draft law that aims to criminalise the dissemination of “false” information about the Ukrainian war, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

According to the draft, the “purpose, role and tasks” of the Russian army may not be falsified, nor may figures on Russian military losses be published that do not come from the Kremlin itself.

Russia wages war against independent media

As the war in Ukraine continues, Russia has stepped up efforts to restrict the availability of information, targeting independent reporting on both sides of the border. 

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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