A senior Wikipedia editor has been arrested in Belarus

The Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of Belarus (GUBOPiK) has arrested prominent Wikipedia editor Mark Bernstein, according to the Belarusian publication Cercalo. The arrest comes after Bernstein’s personal details were shared on GOBUPiK’s public Telegram channel. Bernstein is one of the top 50 editors of Russian Wikipedia.

The edge was able to confirm that Bernstein’s information — including his social media, Wikipedia name and place of work — was shared on GUBOPik’s channel on the messaging app. Along with his photo and personal information, a video of Bernstein’s arrest was also released. In the photo itself, Bernstein is accused of “spreading fake anti-Russian information.” The channel has since been privatised.

Cercalo also reports that Berstein was accused of editing Wikipedia articles about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, none of the information in the Telegram channels specifies exactly what, if anything, Bernstein is officially accused of. In an activity log of Bernstein’s alleged Wikimedia username, you can see that he made over 200,000 edits to Russian Wikipedia articles. Currently, his account is described as “suspended indefinitely.”

Also in the Russian Wikipedia channel on Telegram, users in Belarus and Russia were advised to hide personal data and only edit articles about the war from other accounts.

Belarus has provided logistical support throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine and served as a staging area for units moving toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Ukraine said earlier today that Belarus may be planning to join the invasion with its own military, and claimed Russia carried out a “false flag” attack to provoke the country’s involvement.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law punishing those who spread “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Roskomnadzor, the country’s technology and communications agency, also threatened to block Wikipedia over the Russian-language page about the current invasion of Ukraine. At the time, the Wikimedia Foundation issued a statement in support of Russian Wikipedia editors.

Responding to comment, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation said the group is closely monitoring the situation. “The Foundation’s Trust and Security and Human Rights teams have been monitoring the ongoing crisis in Ukraine,” the spokesman said, “and are in close contact with our communities in the region to ensure their safety and to address their needs.”

Correction, March 11, 2022 6:20 p.m.: A previous version of this article states that Mark Bernstein edited over 200,000 articles on Russian Wikipedia. This has been corrected to over 200,000 edits. We regret the mistake. A senior Wikipedia editor has been arrested in Belarus

Chris Barrese

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