Russian Wikipedia now under censor’s microscope for drug article (updated)

25 Aug 2015

Wikimedia – the non-profit organisation that runs Wikipedia – has found itself the latest target for the Russian internet censor, Roskomnadzor, for featuring an article with references to drug use.

The Russian Wikipedia article that Roskomnadzor has gotten rather annoyed by is one posted on the Russian version of the online encyclopaedia relating to ‘charas’, a type of cannabis drug popularised in India, according to Tech Crunch.

The state-run censor has been cracking down considerably on sites accessed through the Russian language that relate to drug use or that are attempting to educate people on how to cultivate narcotics.

Earlier this month, Roskomnadzor threatened to ban Reddit in Russia because it claimed the site’s administrators failed to respond to calls for a post relating to growing narcotics to be taken down.

The threat was quickly revoked following communication with the Reddit staff and the post’s removal, but the incident is a sign of the censor’s increasing clampdown on what the Russian state sees as offensive behaviour.

Out of Wikimedia’s hands

In a statement issued by Wikimedia, the organisation said it was indeed contacted by the Russian censor.

“Today, we have heard that Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency tasked with oversight of Russian communications, has instructed ISPs to block Russian Wikipedia,” the statement read. “Censorship of Wikipedia content runs contrary to the Wikimedia vision: a world in which everyone can freely access the sum of all knowledge.”

However, the heads of the non-profit group are not responsible for the content that appears on its Russian pages and have stated that it is now up to the site’s Russian editors how best to proceed.

Speaking of the situation, Wikimedia has since said: “The Russian Wikipedia community has held active discussions regarding the notice and article.

“Editors have made significant changes to the article, adding further information and citations to reliable sources, bringing it in line with Wikipedia’s standards for neutrality and reliability. The community has also added a notification banner to Russian Wikipedia, pointing out to users that the site may be blocked.”

Update 26/08/2015, 07:55:

Roskomnadzor have since issued a public statement confirming that they are no longer calling for Russian ISPs to block access to Wikipedia in the country. 

Wikimedia have also issued a statement of support for freedom of speech. “When governments seek to censor Wikipedia, local communities of readers and editors often strongly oppose those actions,” the statement said. “It is always the goal of Wikimedia’s editor communities to ensure content on Wikipedia meet the principles of accuracy, verifiability, and neutrality. We support the Russian Wikipedia community and all Wikimedia communities in their efforts to make accurate, neutral, and reliable information freely available to the world.”

The Kremlin at night image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic