Wikipedia has hidden the Italian edition of the online encyclopaedia to protest against a proposed new law in the country that will require websites to publish corrections within 48 hours of content being found objectionable, or face fines of $16,000 (€12,000).

The new law, named DDL Intercettazioni (Wiretapping Act), is being debated in the Italian parliament this week and would put the burden on websites to amend any content that an applicant deems to be detrimental to his/her image.

"As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced to actually delete it," said Wikipedia in a statement published on its Italian edition website yesterday.

The proposed new law has been met with criticism from a number of activists in Italy and abroad, all claiming it will affect the freedom of expression on the web, and could very easily be used to squash adverse media coverage of the controversial Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Requests for published content to be corrected are not even subject to review, further enraging those opposing it. "Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge," Wikipedia said.  "The opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website."

That means anyone who finds comments offensive whether they are published in a blog, website, or even Wikipedia can directly request a "corrected version" be posted contradicting or disproving the original comments,  "regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources", Wikipedia said.

The online encyclopaedia considers the obligation to publish a correction as is, without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia, and everything it stands for.

Likewise, Italian bloggers are outraged that their right to free speech, as listed in Article 21 of the Italian constitution, is being taken away in an attempt to censor unfavourable content from being published.