Russian rights group says YouTube threatens to block its anti-war channel


FILE PHOTO: A silhouette of a mobile user is seen next to a screen projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - A leading Russian rights group says it has received a notice from YouTube threatening to block access in Russia to one of its video channels featuring news on the war in Ukraine.

OVD-Info, an independent protest monitoring network, said it had received an email from YouTube in early May saying that the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor had found content on the channel that violated a law on information technology.

"If you do not remove the content, Google may be required to block it," Alphabet Inc's YouTube wrote, according to screenshots of an email shared with Reuters. The email did not specify which part of the law OVD-Info was accused of violating.

The channel, Kak Teper (What's Going On), has 100,000 subscribers and features interviews with Russian opposition figures and political news segments that often touch on the war.

"We are consulting with YouTube and Google and trying to explain that the demand to block our channel is an act of political censorship," said OVD-Info spokesperson Dmitrii Anisimov. He said the group's other YouTube channel was not affected.

Contacted by Reuters two times about Youtube's discussions with OVD-Info, a spokesperson for YouTube did not respond. The spokesperson answered separate questions about three other opposition channels which had videos blocked.

Like many Western technology companies, Google quit Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, pulling its staff and suspending all advertising sales, including on YouTube.

Russia has blocked the vast majority of foreign social media platforms, but has stopped short of blocking YouTube despite fining the video-hosting platform repeatedly for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal.

YouTube has tens of millions of monthly users in Russia and blocking the entire platform could prove highly unpopular.

Russian independent media reported on Monday that YouTube had deleted videos from three other channels that provided information on how to evade Russian military service.

Two of the groups told Reuters their content had been reinstated within a day after the media reports.

When contacted by Reuters about the videos, the YouTube spokesperson replied by email: "The content in question has been reinstated to YouTube," without elaborating.

OVD-Info's Kak Teper would be the first Russian human rights channel to be banned on YouTube, as opposed to just a few videos, according to Natalia Krapiva, tech legal counsel at global digital rights non-profit Access Now.

"We will not have any YouTube to fight for anymore if all the civil society is blocked there," Krapiva said in a phone interview.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou, Editing by William Maclean)

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