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Estonian businessman and political donor brings lawsuit against head of national Wikimedia chapter

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By Käbi Laan
The author is the Executive Director of Wikimedia Estonia (WMEE), speaking for the WMEE. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Wikimedia Foundation, The Signpost, or of other Wikipedians.

The Estonian businessman and Isamaa party sponsor Parvel Pruunsild has stated his dislike of the Wikipedia article about him and filed a claim in Tartu County Court to get it changed. This is the first time that an Estonian Wikipedian has been taken to court for his editing. The claim is directed against the chairman of Wikimedia Estonia Ivo Kruusamägi and two Reform Party politicians.

The main author of the article that triggered the lawsuit, Ivo Kruusamägi, says that this is a classical attempt to silence and censor Wikipedia. He points out that Wikipedia is not the original source of texts and investigations. "Wikipedia, like any other encyclopedia, publishes summaries of original sources. Those who do not like it are free to turn to, for example, the newspaper and demand they overturn their claims, and if they manage to convince the paper to do that, Wikipedia will report that the paper first said one thing about them and then something else," he offered.

The story goes back to a highly controversial pension reform that came into existence in Estonia in 2021. People were then allowed to take out their pension savings, and in September of that same year, around 1.3 billion euros exited retirement accounts. The reform was criticized by some, and even reached the Estonian Supreme Court. Estonian businessman and bank owner Parvel Pruunsild, on the other hand, was an avid supporter of this reform. The story gets interesting in 2022, when it was said in Estonian media that Pruunsild had much more influence in the political party Isamaa than was previously thought. In the wake of that public interest, a Wikipedia article was written about him, which mentioned news publications in 2019 expressing suspicions about why Pruunsild was supporting that pension reform. As a result, it was said that his bank could potentially gain millions in additional income. Newspapers even selected him as the 12th most influential man in Estonia in 2020, as a result of the pension reform passing in the parliament.

Prohibiting people from voicing their doubts about why a successful businessman is pushing an influential reform goes directly against the principle of freedom of speech. When that claim would be directed against the politicians, who argued that the likely reason for that reform might be a personal gain for Pruunsild, then it would be a classic strategic lawsuit against public participation. On this occasion, there was one additional step taken: Pruunsild also sued a Wikipedian who, in writing at Wikipedia, had the courage to refer to this topic, and who referred to the existence of his connection to the reform. What is even more unusual is that Pruunsild did not sue the journalists and newspapers who wrote about this topic in the first place in 2019. Wikipedia was only a secondary source, and only claimed that there were suspicions raised about his motivations.

Pruunsild's lawyers have admitted that before the filing of the lawsuit, they made several attempts to remove the section from Wikipedia by deleting it as anonymous editors (for example here). The paragraph, and its references, were restored three times, at which point Pruunsild's lawyers decided to take it to the courthouse. Estonian Wikipedians, on the other hand, have expanded the article even further and brought that directly to the attention of the media. It is not yet clear whether the court will accept the action, or when.

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