Wikimedia, parent company of Wikipedia, on Friday denied having evidence of an “infiltration” of the platform by Saudi authorities aimed at influencing the content of the participatory encyclopedia, as alleged monitoring of human rights NGOs.
The organizations Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and SMEX, based in Washington and Beirut respectively, said in a joint statement that “the Saudi government has infiltrated the team” of the online encyclopedia at the highest level in region, saying it relies on “reliable sources” and an investigation by the Wikimedia Foundation.
There are no such “findings in our investigation,” Wikimedia said in a press release.
Following an investigation last year, the US-based foundation announced the ban from its educational platforms of 16 volunteers “who presented conflicts of interest when editing projects (of pages ) on Wikipedia in the Middle East and North Africa region”.
“A number of users close to external actors were modifying the platform in a coordinated manner to advance the agenda of these actors”, she had then indicated.
“Although we don't really know where they reside, the measures targeting the volunteers, who could have been Saudi, were part of a much larger action […] across the region,” Wikimedia said on Friday.  ;
The Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to AFP's questions.
The Wikimedia press release does not mention the prison sentences reported by DAWN and SMEX, which could not be independently confirmed by AFP.
According to NGOs, two Wikipedia volunteers were arrested in Saudi Arabia in September 2020.
Ossama Khalid and Ziyad al-Sofiani were sentenced to 32 and 8 years in prison respectively, it said. Abdoullah Alaoudh, Director of Gulf Region Research for DAWN. They were arrested “because of their role” at Wikipedia, according to DAWN.
The NGO DAWN was founded by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose assassination in Turkey in 2018 was attributed by US intelligence to Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, which the Saudi authorities deny.
“The arrests of Osama Khalid and Ziyad al-Sofiani on the one hand , and the infiltration of Wikipedia, shows a terrifying insight into how the Saudi government seeks to control the narrative and Wikipedia,” the DAWN official told AFP.
On 15 December, a US court sentenced a former Twitter employee to three and a half years in prison for spying for Saudi officials.