YouTube Censored Videos Uncovering China’s Persecution Of Uighur Muslims In Xinjiang Province
TOPSHOT - This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. - A recurrence of the Urumqi riots which left nearly 200 people dead a decade ago is hard to imagine in today's Xinjiang, a Chinese region whose Uighur minority is straitjacketed by surveillance and mass detentions. A pervasive security apparatus has subdued the ethnic unrest that has long plagued the region.
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

YouTube took down multiple videos from a human rights organization’s channel working to expose China’s human rights abuses according to an exclusive report from Reuters. The video publishing platform claimed the videos violating their guidelines against “cyberbullying and harassment.”

Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights’ channel was working to uncover and document the widespread human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province and has published nearly 11,000 videos with over 120 million views since 2017 on the Google-owned platform. 

Thousands of these videos “feature people speaking to camera about relatives they say have disappeared without a trace in China’s Xinjiang region,” Reuters reported, “where UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people have been detained in recent years.”

“On June 15, the channel was blocked for violating YouTube’s guidelines, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters, after twelve of its videos had been reported for breaching its ‘cyberbullying and harassment’ policy,” the report continued. “The channel’s administrators had appealed the blocking of all twelve videos between April and June, with some reinstated — but YouTube did not provide an explanation as to why others were kept out of public view, the administrators told Reuters.”

According to Reuters, the outlet contacted YouTube to investigate the decision. YouTube then restored the account on June 18, “explaining that it had received multiple so-called ‘strikes’ for videos which contained people holding up ID cards to prove they were related to the missing, violating a YouTube policy which prohibits personally identifiable information from appearing in its content.”

YouTube had reportedly requested that the IDs be blurred, with Atajurt reluctant to do so, “concerned that doing so would jeopardize the trustworthiness of the videos.”

Following YouTube’s actions, the human rights group has decided to back up its video content to Odysee, “a website built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY, designed to give creators more control.” 

“There is another excuse every day. I never trusted YouTube,” Serikzhan Bilash, one of Atajurt’s founders, told Reuters in a phone interview. “But we’re not afraid anymore, because we are backing ourselves up with LBRY. The most important thing is our material’s safety.”

As The Verge noted, a spokesperson for YouTube said the company’s harassment policy “clearly prohibits content revealing someone’s personally identifiable information, including their government identification or phone numbers” and that its policies are enforced “equally for everyone.”

After acknowledging that there was no malicious intent behind the release of the videos, the spokesperson said, “Upon careful review of their appeal, we reinstated the channel and are working with Atajurt Kazakh to explain our policies so they can make the best decisions for their channel.”

On June 10, Amnesty International documented the “Draconian repression of Muslims in Xinjiang,” arguing that the regime’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity.”

Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity,” Amnesty International said.

“Chinese authorities have built one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems and a vast network of hundreds of grim ‘transformation-through-education’ centres — actually, internment camps — throughout Xinjiang. Torture and other ill-treatment is systematic in the camps and every aspect of daily life is regimented in an effort to forcibly instill a secular, homogeneous Chinese nation and Communist party ideals,” Amnesty International added.

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