Authorities in Belarus have arrested and detained Mark Bernstein, one of the top editors of Russian Wikipedia, according to local publication Zerkalo. Bernstein was reportedly accused of violating the “fake news” law Russia passed in early March by editing the Wikipedia article about the invasion of Ukraine. Under the new law, anybody found guilty of what the country deems as false information about the Ukraine invasion — remember, the Kremlin calls it a “special military operation” — could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
It was the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of Belarus (GUBOPiK) that had arrested Bernstein, The Verge reports. The publication says his social media accounts, Wikipedia handle and workplace were shared on GUBOPiK’s public Telegram channel before he was taken in. A video of his arrest was also posted on the channel, along with a photo that accuses him of “distributing fake anti-Russian information.” Belarus played a key role in the invasion of Ukraine by hosting Russian troops, which deployed from the country when the attacks began.
As The Verge notes, it’s unclear what exactly Bernstein is being charged with and which of his edits broke Russia’s fake news law. Bernstein has over 200,000 Wikipedia edits under what’s believed to be his account, which has now been blocked indefinitely.
Russia has been scrambling to suppress sources of information that goes against its official narrative regarding the war in Ukraine, and its new law had forced local independent media outlets to shut down. Dmitri A. Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told The New York Times that “[e]verything that’s not propaganda is being eliminated.”
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