Within hours of the Basij murder of human rights activist Haleh Sahabi, a new entry on Wikipedia appeared, which changed the facts to suit the regime’s official line. The Wikipedia page was altered from the original entry, which said she died during a struggle at her father’s funeral, and change to give the regime’s official version that she died from a simple heart attack. [This article has been updated. See below.]
“She died from cardiac arrest following her father’s funeral” on June 1, according to the altered entry. The lead paragraph made no indication that she had been beaten by Basij paramilitaries at the funeral, an assault that included a savage blow to the chest that may have caused the heart attack or other fatal internal organ damage.
IranChannel went through the Wikipedia forensics and found that the original entry, posted by user PouriaNoi at 09:49 on June 1, read as follows: “She fell to the ground in the scuffle and died of a cardiac arrest.” PouriaNoi used a VOA report as the source.
Three minutes later, at 09:52, an anonymous user with the IP address 188.8.131.52 altered the entry to remove references to a scuffle and give the regime’s official version: “She died after his father’s funeral because of cardiac arrest.” The anonymous user deleted the VOA source and replaced it with a more convenient BBC article, and used the incorrect possessive adjective “his” rather than “her.”
We made a screen shot of the page, pictured, at 15:44 GMT on June 2. We don’t know the anonymous user is, but the user has made only five postings on Wikipedia, four of which altered the page on Haleh. The only other posting from that IP address occurred on April 3, 2011, to make changes to a page about a Korean video application.
Other Wikipedia users added more information further down in the post about Haleh, in a heading titled “Death at Father’s Funeral.” There, the entry provided more news, including news that Haleh had been beaten and subsequently died of a heart attack. It also reported, “The head of security at the Tehran governor’s office, Alireza Janeh, denies there were any clashes at the funeral and stated Sahabi had died of heart problems exacerbated by ‘stress and hot weather.’”
[Click here for a GreenCorrespondents.com audio, in Persian, of a surgeon at the clinic where Haleh died, who said that she appeared to have died not from a heart attack but from blood loss due to internal bleeding, and that her body showed signs of trauma.]
UPDATE, 01:52 GMT, June 3, 2011: A re-check of the Haleh’s Wikipedia page shows that someone has since made a correction to the lead paragraph, with the operative sentence now reading, “She died from cardiac arrest after being beaten by security forces at her father’s funeral.”
Defenders of democracy in Iran should monitor Wikipedia carefully for manipulation by regime agents, and should make objective corrections to the global online encyclopedia. They should also keep track of usernames and IP addresses of those who spin information to suit the interests of the regime. We should presume that the regime is already doing that to the opposition.