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17 November 2008, 10:26

German MP Heilmann capitulates in German Wikipedia dispute (Updated)

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Following massive protests at the blocking of the web site, the German MP Lutz Heilmann announced on Sunday he was withdrawing his injunction against Wikipedia. But the legal dispute isn't all over yet.

Heilmann took out a temporary restraining order against the Wikimedia Germany association on the grounds that an article about him contained false accusations. Now that the "false and vilifying content", constituting "an invasion of his personal privacy", has largely been removed from the relevant article, he says, he has told Wikimedia e.V. he will be taking no further legal steps and that links to Wikipedia content via can be reestablished. He had found the legal route problematic, he explained, because the structure of Wikipedia meant that other users were being affected, and that had not been his intention. He would however be taking further action against certain individuals.

After the blocking of, Wikipedia authors made some revisions to the article about Heilmann. They came to the conclusion that many sections objected to by Heilmann, a qualified lawyer, including speculation about his involvement in an online sex mail-order firm, and about internal party disputes about him, actually did not belong in the article. Heilmann did not protest against mention of his having worked for the former East German Ministry for State Security.

It will take some time before can resume normal operation. is now back online. Wikimedia's lawyer, Thorsten Feldmann, told heise online that Heilmann's statement had not been received directly by them, and that the injunction effecting the closure of was not nullified simply by its originator saying something to the press and, if Heilmann was serious, he would also have to take the necessary procedural steps and withdraw his injunction. Feldmann seems dissatisfied with the way the dispute has been handled. He complains that the court made its decision without considering the arguments of Wikimedia, and he fears that, if Heilmann also withdraws his injunction in court, the public will be left with the false impression that anyone can take out a restraining order and paralyse without allowing Wikimedia a hearing in court.

Heilmann told heise online he would be initiating the cancellation of the temporary restraining order as soon as possible, but would continue his legal action against false assertions. "I have reported an offence and made a criminal complaint against three persons, one of them a Wikipedia author." The other two complaints were against persons who had made false assertions about him on another online portal. Hendrik Thalheim, a spokesman for the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is backing Heilmann, saying that if people untruthfully circulate vilifying assertions about others, those affected can of course defend themselves in accordance with the rule of law, regardless of the channel through which the untruths are circulated, and that this issue was not specifically about Wikipedia.

When the news of the temporary restraining order became known, Wikimedia Germany was inundated with declarations of solidarity. There was a financial effect as well; on Saturday alone, the association received donations amounting to over sixteen thousand euros, and many of the donors left messages opposing Lutz Heilmann's actions.

(Torsten Kleinz)


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