YouTube removed several videos last week created by a human rights group featuring testimonies from people who say their families in China’s Xinjiang region have disappeared, according to a Reuters exclusive report. The platform claimed the videos violated their guidelines against “cyberbullying and harassment.”
Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights’ channel, co-founded by Xinjiang-born activist Serikzhan Bilash, has nearly 11,000 videos on YouTube attracting over 120 million views over the last four years. Thousands of the videos include individuals speaking on camera about relatives who have disappeared in the region.
According to Reuters, Bilash was told by government advisors to stop describing the situation in Xinjiang as a “genocide.”
“They’re just facts,” Bilash told the outlet in a phone interview. “The people giving the testimonies are talking about their loved ones.”
The group appealed YouTube’s decision to block their videos between April and June, and several were restored, but multiple videos are still censored without explanation.
The entire channel was also blocked for the alleged violations on June 15 after twelve videos had been reported. Reuters contacted the tech giant to find out why it was blocked, at which point YouTube restored the channel, saying it had received several “strikes” for videos that included people displaying ID cards to prove they were related to missing family members, an apparent violation of YouTube policy prohibiting non-public personal information, like names and addresses, from being included in content.
“We welcome responsible efforts to document important human rights cases around the world,” YouTube said. “We recognize that the intention of these videos was not to maliciously reveal [personal information] … and are working with Atajurt Kazakh to explain our policies.”
Reuters reported that YouTube asked the channel to blur the IDs, but Atajurt didn’t want to “jeopardize the trustworthiness of the videos.”
“There is another excuse every day. I never trusted YouTube,” Bilash told the outlet. “But we’re not afraid anymore, because we are backing ourselves up with LBRY. The most important thing is our material’s safety.”
After YouTube restricted their content, the human rights organization moved its videos to Odysee, a platform built on a blockchain. Despite the pushback from YouTube, Bilash said the group won’t ever remove their content from the platform.
“We will never delete it,” Bilash said. “The day YouTube deactivated our channel, I felt I’d lost everything in the world… the new channel does not have so many subscribers, but it is safe.”
Earlier this month, Amnesty International said the Communist Chinese Party was committing “crimes against humanity” through its “draconian repression of Muslims in Xinjiang.”
“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,” it added.