Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales restricts discussion of Tony Blair friendship
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has banned a critic from his page on the website for raising his friendship with Tony Blair and support of work funded by the authoritarian Kazakh regime.
By Christopher Williams, Technology Correspondent, Telegraph.co.uk
11:07AM GMT 24 Dec 2012
Tony Blair with President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, inside 10 Downing Street in 2006 Photo: ALASTAIR GRANT/AFP/Getty Images
Jimmy Wales and Kate Garvey, Tony Blair's former diary secretary married at Wesley's Church in the City of London Photo: FIONA HANSON
Tony Blair and wife Cherie attended the ceremony Photo: Fiona Hanson
Kazakhstan’s government sanctioned a foundation called WikiBilim last year, which creates material for a Kazakh Wikipedia. The organisation, which has 25 staff, is backed by Kazakhstan’s sovereign oil wealth fund and run by Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, an ex-government official.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation that runs Wikipedia, provided a $16,600 grant from visitor donations and Mr Wales named Mr Kenzhekhanuly the first ever “Wikipedian of the Year” in 2011.
Wikipedia contributors in the West have questioned whether the Wikimedia Foundation and Mr Wales should be supporting a project backed by a government that Human Rights Watch said earlier this month was mounting a “growing crackdown on free speech”. Independent media outlets have been hauled before courts and shut down.
Last week, Mr Wales denied his or the Wikimedia Foundation’s work in Kazakhstan supported the regime.
On his Talk page on Wikipedia, he argued he takes a “thoughtful and nuanced” position on “working with companies and organization in difficult jurisdictions”.
“In Kazakhstan, there is a great group of volunteer editors - just like you - who are working in a non-political way with their own government to transition an older encyclopedia into Wikipedia, as well as to recruit quality volunteers,” he said.
“Like many people, I have concerns about potential problems, but so far I have been pleased with what I have seen.”
In a separate discussion on Quora, he added that “no one has produced any evidence of any kind of manipulation of Kazakh Wikipedia”.
Mr Wales shut down the discussion on his Talk page, saying it had become “absurd”, when critics raised his friendship with Tony Blair, who is advising the Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, reportedly for $13 million. Mr Blair was a guest at Mr Wales’ wedding to his former diary secretary Kate Garvey in October, and the men have visited Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean.
“That's just totally weird and irrelevant,” said Mr Wales as he shut down the discussion.
“I have nothing to do with his consulting in Kazakhstan, and I have many political (and religious) disagreements with him, which I'm quite open about.
“I have lots of friends, many from difficult countries, many who are politicians, and I don't necessarily agree with everything they say (nor do they agree with me). But frankly, my personal life has absolutely nothing to do with Kazakhstan!”
The discussion was later reopened. He told The Telegraph attempts to link Mr Blair's work with Wikipedia in kazakhstan were the work of "some deranged conspiracy theorists".
The friendship was raised by Andreas Kolbe, a prolific UK-based Wikipedia contributor and frequent critic of the way the Wikimedia Foundation operates. Mr Wales told him to “please stay off my Talk page”.
“I've had enough of you. I'll delete anything you post there, and if you persist, I'll ask others to help delete anything you post there,” he said.
Mr Wales, who said he was strongly committed to free speech, is due to visit Kazakhstan in 2013 according to Rauan Kenzhekhanuly.