Mainstream news organization Reuters recently reported that YouTube recently took down the channel known as Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights. It also took down at least 12 videos in the channel and hid many more videos from public view.
Atajurt was co-founded in 2017 by Serikzhan Bilash, an ethnic Kazakh born in China's northwestern and supposedly autonomous province of Xinjiang. He is also currently running the channel with a small team.
Since 2017, the channel has published nearly 11,000 videos and amassed over 120 million total views. Thousands of the videos feature people from Xinjiang talking about their friends and relatives who they say have disappeared without a trace. Xinjiang is known by human rights groups as a place where over a million mostly Muslim people have been detained in labor and reeducation camps.
Atajurt was taken down on June 15 supposedly for violating YouTube's guidelines. This occurred after 12 videos in the channel were taken down supposedly for breaching the website's cyberbullying and harassment policies.
The channel has since been restored after human rights groups asked questions about why the channel was taken down. Some of the videos that were censored have also been reinstated.
According to YouTube's report, some of the videos that were taken down are not going to be reinstated supposedly due to the website's policy that bans personal information in videos that could lead to harassment.
Some of the videos contained people holding up Chinese government-issued identification cards. Bilash explained that the people did this to prove they are not lying and that they are related to the people who are missing.
YouTube has asked Bilash to blur the ID cards, but he and the other people running Atajurt are hesitant to do so. They are concerned it could jeopardize the trustworthiness of their videos.
Bilash is concerned that if he does not comply with YouTube's pro-China policies, his channel could be taken down again and even more of his videos could be deleted. He and his team have decided to back up their content to Odysee, a smaller free-speech-oriented video-sharing website.
Odysee is built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY. This protocol is designed to give creators more control over their channels. Bilash has already moved nearly 1,000 videos in the channel. He added that he will continue posting videos on YouTube.
"We will never delete it," said Bilash, citing the immense following Atajurt has been able to accrue.
"The day YouTube deactivated our channel, I felt I'd lost everything in the world," Bilash added. "The new channel does not have so many subscribers, but it is safe."
Bilash noted that he was arrested multiple times for his advocacy for the people of Xinjiang. He was told by Kazakh government officials on multiple occasions to stop using the word "genocide" to describe the situation in Xinjiang. He is certain this order came from the Chinese government. (Related: CCP relying on social media platforms like Facebook to spread Xinjiang propaganda.)
"They're just facts," said Bilash. "The people giving the testimonies are talking about their loved ones."
In 2020, Bilash was approached by Kazakh authorities who demanded he stops working with Atajurt. Bilash refused, and as a result, he received multiple death threats. He was forced to flee to Istanbul, Turkey late that year.
A lot of his equipment, including mobile phones used for recording videos and hard drives used for storing material, were confiscated.
Until he can migrate all of his videos to Odysee, YouTube is currently the only place where Atajurt's entire video collection is located. Hopefully, Bilash and his colleagues can move all of their videos fast enough before YouTube makes another move.