Wikipedia is launching an investigation on whether the Persian language version of its website has been removing information on its pages that mentioned Iranian officials’ involvement in human rights violations, following reports by a London-based non-governmental human rights organization.
Justice for Iran accused Persian Wikipedia of “covering up for human rights violators in Iran by deleting statements by officials involved in crimes against humanity” in a statement on Thursday.
According to Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of a US-government funded radio channel, the organization called on Wikipedia’s administrators to “take serious measures to ensure that authoritarian states like Iran do not use Wikipedia as a tool to censor, repress, and escape punishment.”
Thursday’s statement came after some Wikipedia contributors accused members of the Persian website’s editorial team of editing pages on the website, whose content is created by its users, to remove any mention of crimes committed by officials from the Iranian regime.
The organization said that an entire subsection titled “Human Rights Violations” was removed from Wikipedia’s page on Mohsen Rezaei, Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council Secretary and former chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGCs).
Rezaei was named in a list of Interpol’s most wanted persons in 2007 for his alleged role in the 1994 AMIA bombing, a terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Argentina’s Buenos Aires.
According to Justice for Iran, “What makes this example highly revealing is the publication of a Wikipedia page in 2013 that alleges that Rezaei’s name was removed from Interpol’s list.” The page currently states that the former IRGC chief is no longer a wanted person.
Questions about the Persian editorial team’s objectivity were raised after a September 2018 seminar titled “Professional meeting on the application of Wikipedia tactics in communications” was held at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Iran.
According to Radio Farda, the ministry is responsible for censorship in Iran, and the omissions by Persian Wikipedia’s editorial team have shown how influential the Iranian government can be.
“Let’s put it this way, these people are taking on the role of the ministry of guidance in Wikipedia, in the sense that they can close an account, open another, give warnings, and so on. But they are stronger than the ministry,” the radio channel quoted a member of Persian Wikipedia’s editorial team as saying at last year’s seminar.
“They have the keys in their hands. It’s just like when the ministry prevents the publishing of a particular newspaper, so that it’s not published automatically,” the member said, according to Radio Farda.
According to an article titled “Persian Wikipedia: an independent source or a tool of the Iranian state?” that was published on OpenDemocracy, a few seminar attendees questioned the website’s objectivity.