Wikimedia Denies ‘Infiltration’ By Saudi Spies

The Wikimedia Foundation has denied a claim that its team in the Middle East was infiltrated by agents working for the Saudi Arabian government.

Two human rights foundations, Lebanon-based Smex and Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), based in Washington, DC, said the infiltration led to the arrest and imprisonment of two Wikipedia editors in September 2020.

Their claim, published late on Friday, followed a Wikimedia investigation that led to 16 editors being banned.

In a statement last month Wikimedia said it had confirmed that “a number of users with
close connections with external parties were editing the platform in a
coordinated fashion to advance the aim of those parties“.

Wikimedia Foundation founder Jimmy Wales

Spying claim

Smex and Dawn said the “external parties” were the Saudi government.

The groups said two “high-ranking administrators in Saudi Arabia” were arrested in September 2020 as a result of this spying activity and were charged with “swaying public opinion” and “violating public morals”.

They were sentenced to five and 32 years in prison, the groups said.

“Wikimedia’s investigation revealed that the Saudi government had infiltrated the highest ranks in Wikipedia’s team in the region,” Dawn and Smex stated.

They cited “whistleblowers and trusted sources” for the information.

‘Inaccuracies’

Wikimedia said in a statement there were “material inaccuracies” in the Smex and Dawn report.

The Saudi agents were also paid to “promote positive content about the government and delete content critical of the government”, the groups said.

Wikimedia said this was “unlikely to be the case” but that some users “who may have been Saudi” were among those banned.

In September 2021 Wikimedia banned several Chinese editors, citing “infiltration of Wikimedia systems” that sought to advance the aims of the Chinese government.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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