Character-Assassination of Political Prisoner on Wikipedia

Last edited 11:10, created 10:08 – Three days ago, the Italian Wikipedia article about Alejandro Peña Esclusa consisted almost entirely of clearly libelous and false claims. Over a period of 3 days the editors have refused to remove the libelous claims, blocked attempts by other users both to remove the libel, and efforts to introduce Peña’s self-confessed political opinions as a balance.

As reported the other day (English, Swedish), Alejandro Peña Esclusa is an anti-communist politician and activist imprisoned by Hugo Chavez on July 12, 2010, on manufactured and laughable terrorist charges, and held by a kangaroo court. The Wikipedia article about him in Italian was a pure hit-job, accusing him of attempted murder, for being a coupster, fascist, anti-semite, racist; most either without source, or sourced to statements by political enemies. A big effort yesterday to incorporate well sourced and NPOV (neutral point of view) material from the English Wikipedia article immediately got deleted. For good measure, the user got blocked from doing further edits. Another user re-inserted it and it again got deleted. The libelous text was reinserted. Little does it help that it was flagged as biased and lacking credible sources, when some of it was patently false and libelous.

Here is an example of the reinserted text, as it stands at 10:24 today: “Nel suo programma politico attuale propugna oggi il rovesciamento violento dei governi di centro-sinistra latinoamericani e il ritorno di dittature militari.” In translation, “In his present political program he is advocating the violent overthrowing of the center-left governments of Latin America and the return of military dictatorships.” No source is provided. In spite of repeatedly providing quotes from Peña, video-recordings where he himself states that he opposes violence, to the editors, they let the libelous statement stand, and delete the refutations. The quoted text mentions “center-left governments,” which should have been a warning flag for the editors, being the terminology of Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” and “Socialism in the XXI Century.” Neutral observers rarely consider governments that socialize companies “center”.

A link to a video where Peña Esclusa himself declares that he denounces violence as a political method was provided, but rejected by the editors. Here is a quote from another website under his control: “the Venezuelans ought to become inspired by the Honduran model, and strive for a change of government as soon as possible, through pacific, democratic, and constitutional means–and not just electoral–to avoid a national tragedy” (my emphasis). To allow the unsourced claim to stand, in complete contradiction to his own clearly stated and sourced political ideology (in the translated article), is beyond incompetence. It is either deliberate libel, or libel through gross negligence, since the concerns had been clearly pointed out in the discussion page.

The history of the increasingly frustrating efforts to make the administrators (admin for short, i.e., the Wikipedia term for editors) agree to remove the libelous claims can be read on the discussion page and the history page on Italian Wikipedia.

The first mentioning of the problem was made on the discussion page 2010-07-17 18:01 CEST, with the following message: “This page appears to contain potentially libelous claims without source, that should be removed immediately – this needs to be addressed by an editor in Italian wikipedia.” The rules for articles on living persons in English Wikipedia (there is no Italian translation) clearly states that one should delete such text immediately, but out of courtesy a chance was given to the Italian users to correct the page first. When after 4 hours nothing had happened, all libelous and unsourced claims were removed. That only left one sentence in the article – which goes a long way to show how biased it was.

This delete was undone within 5 minutes by user L736E, an admin who in the discussion kept insisting that Italian Wikipedia had different rules than English Wikipedia, although he never managed to provide a link to the rules. This is his reply: “Sorry guy but in Wikipedia in italian there’s no such rule that “libelous claim should be deleted IMMEDIATELY”.” He later edited his reply to, “Sorry guy but “libelous claim should be demonstrated and presented as such.”

Among the libelous claims that he re-instated was this: “On April 12, 2002, Peña Esclusa participated in the failed coup d’état in Venezuela.” No source for this statement was given. The fact is that he was arrested and promptly set free. The judicial principles are that if the prosecution of a person is dropped, then he is to be regarded innocent, just as if he been declared innocent by a court of law. This sentence in the article was thus demonstrably libelous. Being from the person’s ideological enemies, the communists, it was also communist propaganda. There was thus every reason to either remove it, or rephrase the text to state that it is an accusation from his political enemies. But it had to be done immediately, not “mañana”.

However, when the communist propaganda-nature of the libelous statements was pointed out to admin L726E, he took the argument as a personal attack against him(!). As a result, another admin, calling himself Vito Giulio-Claudio at the time, blocked not just further edits but also all discussion and messages.

These admins claim that the Italian version of Wikipedia entirely lacks rules for protecting innocent persons against libelous attacks with unsourced statements the way the English one does. In their words, the English rules do not apply to them. But on the English page on Biographies of living persons, it says, “This page documents an English Wikipedia policy, a widely accepted standard that all editors should normally follow” (my emphasis). Their word normally links to a common sense clause, which instructs the editors to use common sense, based on the “Ignore all rules-rule,” which says, “If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.”

The Italian admins thus have all the clout they need to stop the libelous attacks on Alejandro Peña Esclusa, but instead they chose to use their clout to keep the libel in place by avoiding fundamental changes.

The Wikipedia Foundation would be well advised to permanently block those irresponsible administrators who let libel stand, especially in a case like this, when the person’s life quite literally is in the balance–and just might depend on the veracity of that information.

Footnote: Wikipedia in June announced that they would open up some 2000 hitherto locked articles to make editing easier, including many biographies of living persons (source DN).

Example of Chávez’s propaganda, added 11:10: The new house organ of Hugo Chávez from 2009, Correo del Orinoco, has published an article in which they discuss a video of Alejandro Peña Esclusa talking in a church in 2007. In effect, what he is saying is calling for the congregation to follow the constitution and to protest peacefully. This is their way of demonstrating that Peña is a dangerous terrorist(!). If this is the most incriminating evidence they have, they have nothing. In other words, what the propaganda outlet suggests between the lines, is that to even be opposed to Chávez’s socialist revolution legally and peacefully is unacceptable, and deserves to lend a person in jail.