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Photo by Christiaan Briggs, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo by Christiaan Briggs, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Roughly 12 million people in Iraq will be able to access Wikipedia free of mobile data charges through a partnership announced Tuesday by volunteer Wikipedia editors in Iraq, the Wikimedia Foundation, and Asiacell, one of Iraq’s largest mobile operators. The new Wikipedia Zero partnership was announced at a press event during Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.

The partnership, developed in large part by Iraqi volunteer editor and Asiacell employee Sarmad Saeed Yaseen, marks the first Wikipedia Zero program in Iraq. Overseen by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia Zero addresses one of the greatest barriers to internet access globally: affordability. In a recent phone survey in Iraq led by the Wikimedia Foundation, roughly 80% of surveyed participants reported that mobile data costs limited their use of the internet. About 33% of participants also reported rarely or never being able to find online content in their preferred language.

Through the Wikipedia Zero program, mobile data fees are waived for subscribers of participating mobile operators so that they may read and edit Wikipedia without using any of their mobile data.

Sarmad, who is part of a community of local volunteer Wikipedia editors in Iraq, started the partnership to extend access to knowledge in his home country of Iraq. Together, he and his wife and fellow Wikipedian, Ravan Jaafar Altaie, have been active editors since 2008.

“I’ve always believed that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, so I decided to volunteer in Wikipedia to provide knowledge for free to my people in their own language,” said Sarmad. “When I was first introduced to Wikipedia Zero, I felt right away that this could be the best thing ever to share free knowledge in my country and encourage the people of Iraq to contribute knowledge and share this with the world on Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia in Iraq is supported by a local community of volunteer editors in almost every major city of the country. In 2015, Sarmad and Ravan organized the first series of workshops in Iraq to teach Iraqi people how to edit Wikipedia. The workshops led to 600 new articles and more than 12,000 edits primarily to Arabic and Kurdish Wikipedia. In October 2015, this community launched the first formalized Wikimedia group from Iraq, the Iraqi Wikimedians user group.

Wikipedia is recognized worldwide as an important learning resource, but it also offers a platform to share knowledge with the world. Edits from any country contribute to the world’s common knowledge repository, seen by hundreds of millions of people every month. This allows many to learn from what just a few people might otherwise know. As more voices contribute to Wikipedia, it becomes a better representation of the diverse cultures, history, people, viewpoints, and perspectives of our world.

“Asiacell believes that sharing knowledge is a way to enforce the interaction among human beings. We strongly believe in contributing in the global project of Wikipedia. Beside all the modern technologies that we offer, this partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation is one of the achievements that we are proud of. We will enable our 12 million subscriber base to have free access to Wikipedia, this will enable them to widen the scale of their knowledge and thus direct them towards a brighter future for themselves and for humanity,” said Zring Faruk, Chief Commercial Officer at Asiacell.

With this partnership, Asiacell customers will be able to edit Wikipedia without mobile data charges—adding to and improving articles in their preferred language and sharing knowledge of Iraq’s rich cultural history, heritage, and its people with the rest of the world.

“Wikipedia is guided by a powerful vision: that every single person should be able to share in all of the world’s knowledge, for free and without restriction,” said Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Sarmad, Ravan, and the Iraqi Wikimedians User Group have been passionate advocates of this vision in Iraq. They’ve nurtured the growth of Arabic and Kurdish Wikipedia for nearly a decade, and have built a vibrant community committed to sharing knowledge of Iraq and its heritage, people, and culture with the world. We are thrilled to have Asiacell join us as a partner in this journey.”

The Wikipedia Zero program is overseen by the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and a number of other Wikimedia free knowledge websites. Since the program first began in 2012, Wikipedia Zero partnerships have taken place with 68 mobile operators in 52 countries.

About Asiacell

Asiacell is a leading provider of quality mobile telecommunications and data services in Iraq with a subscriber base of nearly 12 million customers as of December 1, 2016. Asiacell was the first mobile telecommunications provider in Iraq to achieve nationwide coverage, offering its services across all of Iraq’s 19 governorates, including the national capital Baghdad and all other major Iraqi cities. In all, its network covers 99.06% of the Iraqi population.

Jack Rabah, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Middle East and Africa – Global Reach team
Zack McCune, Global Audiences
Wikimedia Foundation

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