EXCLUSIVE-YouTube removes videos from Xinjiang and forces activists to search for an alternative

By Victoria Waldersee and Paresh Dave

Jun 25 (.) – A human rights group that attracted millions of views on YouTube after posting testimonies from people who say their families have disappeared in China’s Xinjiang region is moving its videos to the little-known service Odysee, after some they were pulled by the streaming giant owned by Google, two sources told ..

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

Serikzhan Bilash, a Kazakh activist born in Xinjiang and who has been detained multiple times for his activism, said he was told by government advisers five years ago to stop using “genocide” to describe the situation in Xinjiang, an order he assumed to be It came from Beijing’s pressure on Kazakhstan.

“They are just facts,” Bilash, one of the channel’s founders, told . in a telephone interview, referring to the content of Atajurt’s videos. “The people who give the testimonies are talking about their loved ones.”

The Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights channel has posted almost 11,000 videos on YouTube totaling more than 120 million views since 2017, thousands of which show people speaking to the camera about relatives who say they have disappeared without a trace in China’s region of Xinjiang.

UN experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people have been detained in recent years in the Chinese province.

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

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The channel’s administrators had appealed the blocking of all twelve videos between April and June, and some were reinstated, but YouTube gave no explanation as to why the others were kept out of the public eye, administrators told ..

Following questions from . about the reason for the removal of the channel, YouTube reinstated it, explaining that it had received several so-called “strikes” by videos showing people showing their identity cards to show that they were related to the disappeared, thus violating a company policy that prohibits the appearance of personally identifiable information in its contents.

On June 18 they reestablished the channel, but they asked Atajurt to blur the identifications.

The channel administrator said that Atajurt was hesitant to comply with the request, as he was concerned that doing so would jeopardize the reliability of the videos.

Fearing further blocking by YouTube, they decided to back up content to Odysee, a website built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY, designed to give creators more control. So far about 975 videos have been transferred

As administrators moved the content, they received another series of automated messages from YouTube stating that the videos in question had been removed from public view, this time out of concern that they might promote violent criminal organizations.

“Every day there is one more excuse. I never trusted YouTube,” Serikzhan Bilash, one of the founders of Atajurt, told . in a telephone interview. “But we are no longer afraid, because we are backed by LBRY. The most important thing is the safety of our material.”

Bilash, who fled to Istanbul last year after suffering repeated threats and intimidation by Kazakh authorities when he refused to stop working with Atajurt, said his equipment, including hard drives and mobile phones, had been confiscated in multiple times in Kazakhstan, making YouTube the only place where the entire video collection was stored.

YouTube said that messages related to the promotion of violent criminal organizations were automated and not related to the creator’s content, but that the videos were kept private to allow administrators to make edits.

Representatives of Atajurt fear that pro-Chinese groups who deny the existence of human rights violations in Xinjiang are using YouTube’s reporting functions to remove their content, reporting it en masse and causing an automatic block.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon, Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Edited in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)

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