Politician files Wikipedia charge over Nazi symbols

BERLIN Thu Dec 6, 2007 3:54pm EST

Nazi flags, seized weapons and ammunition are displayed to the press in the Portuguese police headquarters in Lisbon April 20, 2007. A left-wing German politician has filed charges against online encyclopedia Wikipedia for promoting the use of banned Nazi symbols in Germany.REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Nazi flags, seized weapons and ammunition are displayed to the press in the Portuguese police headquarters in Lisbon April 20, 2007. A left-wing German politician has filed charges against online encyclopedia Wikipedia for promoting the use of banned Nazi symbols in Germany.

Credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A left-wing German politician has filed charges against online encyclopedia Wikipedia for promoting the use of banned Nazi symbols in Germany.

Katina Schubert, a deputy leader of the Left party, said she had filed the charge with Berlin police on the grounds that Wikipedia's German language site contained too much Nazi symbolism, particularly an article on the Hitler Youth movement.

"The extent and frequency of the symbols on it goes beyond what is needed for documentation and political education, in my view," she told Reuters. "This isn't about restricting freedom of opinion, it's about examining what the limits are."

Schubert said she had taken legal advice before making her move, and that she hoped it would encourage public debate on how far Internet platforms should be allowed to aid proponents of extremist, anti-Semitic and racist ideologies.

"There are signs neo-Nazis are trying to take advantage of such structures, and this needs to be stopped in good time," Schubert said. "Especially given that Wikipedia is too important to jeopardize as an open and self-regulating project."

A spokesman for Wikimedia Deutschland, an organization that promotes the Internet lexicon in Germany, rejected the charge.

"We don't really know what Ms Schubert's problem is," Arne Klempert, managing director of Wikimedia Deutschland, told Reuters. "What's important is the context the symbols are used in, and here it's quite clearly education and documentation."

"Anyone who tries to prevent the Nazi period being documented properly has a strange understanding of the world, in my view," Klempert said. "Because that's the best weapon there is (to prevent) something like that from happening again."

Public display of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, but they can be used for educational and artistic purposes.

Schubert also came under fire from party colleagues.

"Katina Schubert fails to grasp the self-regulating mechanisms that work in Wikipedia," Heiko Hilker, a Left party media expert in Saxony's state parliament, said in a statement.

"Right-wing extremism on the World Wide Web cannot be tackled via national criminal proceedings," he added.

Schubert said police would pass on the charge to state prosecutors, who would decide whether to open an investigation.

Klempert said Wikipedia's structure, which enables Internet users to discuss and edit content, ensured no bias arose. "Particularly on subjects like the Hitler Youth, you can be sure it would be changed in seconds if it did (show bias)," he said.

The Hitler Youth was the Nazis' official youth organization.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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