EXCLUSIVE YouTube removes Xinjiang videos, forces rights group to search for alternative

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June 25 (Reuters) – A human rights group that has attracted millions of views on YouTube for testimonies of people claiming their families have disappeared in China’s Xinjiang region transfers its videos to the little-known service Odysee after some were removed by Google. owned by the streaming giant (GOOGL.O), two sources told Reuters.

The group, credited by international organizations like Human Rights Watch for drawing attention to human rights violations in Xinjiang, has been under fire by Kazakh authorities since its founding in 2017.

Serikzhan Bilash, a Kazakh activist born in Xinjiang who co-founded the channel and has been arrested several times for his activism, said government advisers told him five years ago to stop using the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Xinjiang – an order he assumed came from the Chinese government’s pressure on Kazakhstan.

“These are just facts,” Bilash told Reuters in a telephone interview, referring to the content of Atajurt’s videos. “People who testify talk about their loved ones. “

The Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights channel has posted nearly 11,000 videos on YouTube, totaling more than 120 million views since 2017, including thousands of people speaking to the camera of relatives who are believed to have disappeared without a trace in China’s Xinjiang region. , where UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people have been detained in recent years.

On June 15, the channel was blocked for violating YouTube guidelines, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters, after twelve of its videos were flagged for violating its “cyberbullying and harassment” policy.

The channel’s administrators appealed the blocking of the twelve videos between April and June, with some reinstated – but YouTube did not explain why others were being kept out of public view, administrators told Reuters.

Following Reuters inquiries as to why the channel was deleted, YouTube restored it, explaining that it had received several so-called “strikes” over videos featuring people holding up business cards. identity to prove they were related to the missing, violating a YouTube policy that prohibits personally identifiable information from appearing in its content. They re-established the channel on June 18 but asked Atajurt to scramble the ID cards.

Atajurt is reluctant to comply, the channel’s administrator said, fearing it could compromise the reliability of the videos. Fearing further blockage by YouTube, they decided to save the content on Odysee, a website built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY, designed to give creators more control. Around 975 videos have been moved so far.

Even as the administrators moved content, they received another round of automated messages from YouTube indicating that the videos in question had been removed from public view, this time over fears they could promote violent criminal organizations. .

“There is another excuse every day. I never trusted YouTube,” Serikzhan Bilash, one of the founders of Atajurt, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But we are no longer afraid, because we rely on LBRY. The most important thing is the safety of our equipment.”

Bilash, who fled to Istanbul last year after suffering repeated threats and intimidation from Kazakh authorities when he refused to stop working with Atajurt, said his equipment, including disks drives and cell phones, had been confiscated several times in Kazakhstan, making YouTube the only place where their entire collection of videos was stored.

YouTube said posts related to promoting violent criminal organizations were automated and not tied to creator content, but videos were kept private to allow administrators to make edits.

“I FEELING I HAVE LOST EVERYTHING”

UN experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in a vast camp system in Xinjiang. Many former detainees said they had been subjected to ideological training and abuse in the camps. China denies all accusations of abuse.

In recent years, YouTube has restricted more content amid growing surveillance of cyberbullying, disinformation and hate speech online. Politicians have ensnared many channels, including those of far-right commentators, forcing them to seek refuge on social media services such as Parler which tout more openness.

But Atajurt officials fear that pro-China groups that deny human rights abuses in Xinjiang will use YouTube’s reporting features to remove their content by reporting it en masse, triggering an automatic block. Representatives shared videos on WhatsApp and Telegram with Reuters which they say describe how to report Atajurt’s YouTube videos.

They also reported several YouTube channels with videos of Serikzhan Bilash’s face superimposed on animals like monkeys and pigs which they said disparaged Bilash’s character and work.

YouTube said channels are always welcome to switch to alternatives. Its policies prohibit directing abusive attention by posting non-public personal information, such as names and addresses.

The service makes exceptions to certain rules for educational, documentary or science videos – but Atajurt’s videos did not meet those requirements to a sufficient level, according to YouTube.

“We welcome responsible efforts to document important human rights cases around the world,” the company said. “We recognize that the intention of these videos was not to maliciously reveal PII… and are working with Atajurt Kazakh to explain our policies.”

Odysee told Reuters he welcomed and supported Atajurt.

Atajurt plans to continue uploading to YouTube for as long as possible.

“We will never remove it,” Bilash said, citing the service’s importance to the general public.

“The day YouTube took our channel off, I felt like I lost everything in the world… the new channel doesn’t have that many subscribers,” he said, “but it sure is. . “

Reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon, Paresh Dave in San Francisco; edited by Kenneth Li, Vanessa O’Connell and Nick Zieminski

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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