A human rights group that has attracted millions of views on YouTube of testimonials from people saying their families have disappeared in the Xinjiang region of China is streaming their videos to the little-known service Odysee after some were shot dead by Google’s streaming giant, two sources told Reuters.
The group, accredited by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch to have attracted attention human rights violations in Xinjiang, has been under fire by Kazakh authorities since its founding in 2017.
Serikzhan Bilash, a Xinjiang-born Kazakh activist 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 is expected to come from pressure from the Chinese government on Kazakhstan.
“They’re just facts,” Bilash told Reuters in a telephone interview, referring to the content of Atajurt’s videos. “People who give testimonials talk about their loved ones.”
The Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights channel has posted nearly 11,000 videos on YouTube for a total of more than 120 million views since 2017, thousands of which feature people speaking to the relatives ’room saying they have disappeared without a trace into the Xinjiang region of China, where experts and UN rights groups estimate that at least one million people have been arrested in recent years.
On June 15, the channel was blocked for violating YouTube guidelines, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters, after 12 of its videos were reported for violating its “cyberbullying and harassment” policy.
Channel administrators had appealed against the blocking of all 12 videos between April and June, with some restored – but YouTube did not provide an explanation as to why others were kept out of public view, administrators said. they told Reuters.
Following information from Reuters as to why the channel was shut down, YouTube reopened it on June 18, explaining that it had received several so-called “strikes” for videos containing people holding ID cards to show that ‘they were related to the missing, violating a YouTube policy that prohibits personal identity information from appearing in their content.
Human Rights Watch also warned YouTube about Atajurt being blocked, MIT Technology Review said Thursday.
YouTube asked Atajurt to blur the ID. But Atajurt is reluctant to comply, said the channel administrator, worried that doing so would jeopardize the trust of the videos.
Fearing more blockchain from YouTube, they decided to back the content to Odysee, a website built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY, designed to give creators more control.
About 975 videos https://odysee.com/@ATAJURT:8 have been posted so far.
A rights group says YouTube has blocked some of its videos from the families of missing people in Xinjiang, China – where more than 1 million Uyghurs and minorities have been interned in “re-education” camps.
– AJ + (@ajplus) June 25, 2021
Even 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 because of concerns that they could promote violent criminal organizations. .
“Every day there is another excuse. I have 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 support ourselves with LBRY. The most important thing is the safety of our material.”
Bilash, who fled to Istanbul last year after receiving repeated threats and intimidation from the Kazakh authorities when he refused to stop working with Atajurt, said his crew, including hard drives and mobile phones. , has been confiscated several times in Kazakhstan – making YouTube the only place where the entire video collection was stored.
YouTube said messages related to the promotion of violent criminal organizations were automated and not related to the creator’s content, but the videos were kept private to allow administrators to make changes.
“I feel like I’ve lost everything”
UN experts and rights groups estimate that at least one million people, mostly Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in a vast camp system in Xinjiang.. Many former detainees said they were subjected to ideological training and abuse in the camps. China denies all allegations of abuse.
YouTube in recent years has limited more content amid growing scrutiny over online cyberbullying, misinformation and hate speech. Politicians have trapped several channels, including those of far-right commentators, forcing them to seek refuge on social media services like Parler which promotes more openness.
But Atajurt representatives feared pro-China groups denying that human rights abuses exist in Xinjiang using YouTube’s reporting features to remove their content by reporting en masse, triggering an automatic blockade. Representatives shared videos on WhatsApp and Telegram with Reuters that were described as reporting Atajurt’s YouTube videos.
They also pointed to several YouTube channels that contained videos of Serikzhan Bilash’s face superimposed on animals such as monkeys and pigs that were said to denigrate Bilash’s character and work.
YouTube said the channels are always welcome to switch to alternatives. Their policies prevent abusive attention by publishing non-public personal information, such as names and addresses.
The service makes exceptions to certain rules for videos that are educational, documentary or scientific – but Atajurt’s videos don’t meet those requirements at 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 intent of these videos was not to maliciously reveal PII … and we are working with Atajurt Kazakh to explain our policies.”
Odysee told Reuters he welcomes and supports Atajurt.
Atajurt plans to continue uploading to YouTube as long as it can.
“We will never cancel it,” Bilash said, citing the importance of the service’s general public.
“The day YouTube deactivated our channel, I had the feeling I had lost everything in the world … the new channel didn’t have as many subscribers,” he said, “but it’s safe.”