Wikipedia fails to stop Slander of Political Prisoner

As reported here 2 days ago, in Character-Assassination of Political Prisoner on Wikipedia, the Italian-language version of the popular free online encyclopedia has for a long time hosted an openly biased and clearly libelous article about the Venezuelan opposition-politician Alejandro Peña Esclusa. Since that article was published, the editor has gone in and removed the two sentences that I quoted the other day. Kind of (see below).

However, he also removed the flag that the article is biased and lacks credible sources – in spite of the fact that many problems still exist.

The Article Remains Libelous

The second paragraph says, “He is furthermore a member of the Catholic-inspired traditionalist movement Tradition, Family, and Property, some members of which were accused of the attempt to organize the attack on Pope John Paul II during his visit to Caracas November 13, 1984 (the organisation has denied such a ‘sacriligious attack’)[2], and against Ronald Reagan, president of the United States of America. As a result of this the movement is outlawed in Venezuela, France, Spain, and Argentina, the countries where it mainly existed.” (“È inoltre membro del movimento tradizionalista di ispirazione cattolica Tradizione, Famiglia e Proprietà, di cui alcuni appartenenti sono stati accusati del tentativo di organizzare attentati contro Giovanni Paolo II durante il suo viaggio a Caracas il 13 novembre 1984 (l’associazione ha però smentito tale “sacrilego attentato”)[2], e contro Ronald Reagan, presidente degli Stati Uniti d’America. In seguito a ciò il moviemento è stata dichiarata fuorilegge in Venezuela, Francia, Spagna e Argentina, paesi dove era maggiormente radicata.“)

Reference 2 speaks about the alleged attack plans, not about his membership in the organization. There is thus no source for the only claim that is relevant: The allegation that he is a member of an organization that is outlawed in his country. In other words, they are accusing him of committing a crime without presenting any proof whatsoever.

Apart from this obvious legal embarrassment for Wikipedia, the article remains negatively biased against Peña Esclusa. For instance, his own arguments, in his own defense, recorded in videos posted online before his arrest, are not even mentioned. Whenever a user introduced such text and references, an admin immediately deleted it.

Furthermore, the biased intentions of the editor can be deduced from the fact that the two problematic sentences I mentioned last time were not actually removed from the file. They were just commented out by admin “Vituzzu”. As soon as nobody is watching, any user can remove the comment-characters and make the libel re-appear.

An examination of the history of the article shows that the efforts to keep smears in place is not something new. On April 8, 2010, an anonymous user took away the sentence saying that he was “a member of the Tradition, Family and Property movement, which only allows Aryans as members” with the comment that “it is not true”. Almost immediately the sentence was reinserted by user Skyluke, whose page you can see below. Draw your own conclusions.

The page of the Wikipedia user who inserted libelous claims about Alejandro Peña Esclusa on April 8, 2010
The page of the Wikipedia user who inserted libelous claims about Alejandro Peña Esclusa on April 8, 2010

It’s not so easy for the falsely accused to defend himself against this libel, given that he is a political prisoner in Venezuela. But if it was me, and I could get word to my lawyer, I would tell him to send a cease and desist letter; not to Italian Wikipedia, but to the mother-foundation in the US. You see, by them allowing the Italian site to use the name wikipedia, they are lending their credibility to the articles also in Italian. It is a fact that also non-Italian users have used this article to get – as they thought – neutral and balanced information about who he is, after the news of his arrest went over the world last week. This has caused a large number of people to decide not to try to help him, as evidenced from discussion pages on the internet.

One of the arguments of the Italian editors was that the text was putative, not decisive. Tough luck. That does non come through in the machine translations on the Internet. Nor does the lack of credible sources come through. Speaking of which, the page still retains as a presumably neutral source a journalist who is demonstrably hostile to the person of the article.

I am looking forward to see how this plays out. It would be an interesting legal case if it would play out, given the many legal facts to consider. (Disclaimer: This is just my opinions, and nobody should take it as advice.) Although a much better solution is of course that the Wikipedia Foundation realizes that an innocent person has been harmed, and takes actions to both help him, and to prevent it from happening again. For instance, by mandating that the rules for protecting biographies on living persons be followed by all sites associated with them. To help undo the damage, they could set experts to edit the article about Mr. Peña, and present it as a featured article.

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