(January 18, 2023 – Washington, DC and Beirut): On January 5, 2023, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and SMEX issued a joint press release regarding the Saudi government’s infiltration of Wikipedia, apparently using editors and administrators to shape content about Saudi Arabia, and the imprisonment of two Saudi Wikipedians. This is an update to the initial statement.
We now have additional information to confirm that of the 16 banned users, at least nine are in Saudi Arabia, including seven top-tier administrators, all Saudi nationals. The public profiles of some of the nine indicate that they are in Saudi Arabia, and additional sources have confirmed their location. We also know that one of the 16 is a Kuwaiti citizen but primarily edited pages related to Saudi Arabia; we do not know his location. Three of the banned users were working on Farsi language content, three banned users worked on Farsi and Arabic pages, and ten worked primarily on Arabic language content.
We could not find any additional information to verify the exact locations of the remaining seven banned users, but we welcome additional information or evidence from Wikimedia about them, which merely denied that all 16 were in Saudi Arabia in its January 9, 2023 statement, stating that our release included “material inaccuracies” and generically denying “Saudi infiltration.” Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) did not deny any of the specific allegations contained in the press release, nor did it make public the findings of its investigation that led it to ban 16 Wikimedia users and administrators for “conflict of interest editing” and “coordination” with “external parties” following its internal investigation, as it announced on December 6, 2022.
New evidence reviewed by DAWN and SMEX, including examples of edits made by the banned administrators, also provides additional support that the “external parties” Wikimedia referenced are indeed linked to the Saudi government. As documented by members of the Wikipedia community, edits by now-banned administrators included significantly softened descriptions of the Saudi government’s detention of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom they later murdered and dismembered. Other examples include entries promoting the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, a personal profile for Saudi government minister Faisal Alibrahim, an entry celebrating Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s project “The Line,” and an entry regarding the 2022 Iran–Greece naval incident.
SMEX and DAWN renew our call to Wikimedia to make public its full investigation into the matter, and we join the calls made by Arabic Wikipedians in this public post for full transparency from the organization.