YouTube Suspends Account of Chinese Dissident

China stepping up information operations against exiled billionaire

Guo Wengui / Ellen Dubin Photography

Guo Wengui / Ellen Dubin Photography

BY:

YouTube has suspended the video account of popular Chinese dissident Guo Wengui amid a mounting pressure from the Beijing government to silence one of its critics.

According to a person familiar with the action, YouTube issued what the company calls a "strike" against Guo, who since the beginning of the year has created an online sensation by posting lengthy videos in which he reveals details of corruption by senior Chinese officials.

The suspension involves a 90-day block on any new live-stream postings of videos and was the result of a complaint made against a recent Guo video for alleged harassment.

The identity of the person or institution who issued the complaint could not be learned.

The video in question has been removed and no details were available on what prompted the action.

Other videos by Guo posted prior to the suspension remain accessible.

Guo has become widely popular throughout the world among Chinese and others who see him as a leading figure advocating for democratic political reform in China. His YouTube videos were widely circulated in China and around the world despite censorship restrictions.

YouTube guidelines call for an initial 90-day suspension when a user violates the terms of service, such as posting graphic nudity or violence.

The company's policy also includes a suspension for online harassment or for revealing sensitive personal information the contravene YouTube guidelines.

"YouTube takes harassment seriously, and we have strict policies against it as indicated in our Community Guidelines," a YouTube spokeswoman said. "We review flagged content and remove inappropriate videos according to our policies."

The policy, according to the person familiar with the case, could lead to additional restrictions if further "strikes" are issued against Guo by YouTube.

The offensive video reportedly contained direct threats to individuals, something that violated the harassment policy. YouTube defines harassment as threats, intimidation, inciting others to harass an individual or group, or deliberately posting content to humiliate someone.

YouTube also restricts videos that violate someone's privacy and privacy complaints can lead the company to notify those posting the content to edit out the offending material.

After the 90-day suspension, Guo can resume live streaming provided there are no new strikes issued in the next three months.

Guo also tweeted that he believes Twitter has restricted his use of that social media platform to broadcast videos.

However, Twitter denied limiting Guo's feed. "We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons," a Twitter spokeswoman said.

After his YouTube channel was shut down, Guo sought to broadcast YouTube videos through his Twitter feed. The suspension by YouTube appears to include technical capabilities to block any broadcasting of YouTube videos through other media such as Twitter.

Guo, in a statement, denied violating YouTube guidelines and said the Chinese government was behind YouTube’s decision to suspend the account, days before the major Communist Party conference.

"The Chinese kleptocrats are panicked about my exposure of their systematic and rampage corruption before the 19th Party Congress because they fear when the truth about how they steal from the people to enrich themselves in the name of the state, the Chinese people would demand a revolution to bring them down," Guo said, adding that the claim of online harassment was a "fabrication."

"What amazed me is that without consulting me and reviewing the video, YouTube censored my content and suspended my account," he added. "This internet giant supposed to champion free speech, but it instead is used by the kleptocrats to embrace censorship."

Guo has become a major target of the Chinese government that has engaged in a global campaign to discredit and silence him.

Using a Chinese security official who currently heads the international police organization Interpol, China succeeded in issuing an Interpol "red notice," or an international arrest warrant for alleged corruption.

A U.S. official, however, said the Chinese case against Guo is political and not legal.

Facebook also took action against Guo last month restricting his ability to post on a Chinese-language account.

The YouTube suspension followed a similar action by Facebook. A spokeswoman for Facebook told Reuters that the company has "unpublished" one page related to Guo and temporarily restricted posts to his profile page over alleged violations of community standards.

The pressure on the dissident comes amid a growing crackdown by China on traditional and social media in the lead up to this week's 19th Party Congress, when Xi is expected to be granted a second five year term as supreme leader.

Guo over the past 28 years has said he gathered large amounts of inside information on the workings of the Chinese government and military and has begun revealing what he knows.

Earlier this month at a press conference, Guo released a top-secret document from the Chinese national security council outlining a plan to send 27 new intelligence officers to the United States.

The document states that the spies' mission is to "crush" what it terms "hostile anti-China forces" in America.

Guo's case was raised earlier this month during a meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun at the Justice Department.

The Chinese minister asked for Guo to be repatriated to China.

Sessions countered during the meeting that China had engaged in illegal hacking against the Hudson Institute and the law firm Clark Hill, that until recently had been handling Guo Wengui's request for political asylum.

Hudson had planned to host Guo at a press conference earlier this month but canceled the event one day before it was to take place. A spokesman also said the think tank had been a victim of a cyber attack that security specialists said originated in Shanghai—a known location for Chinese military hackers.

Documents that appeared to originate from Clark Hill were then posted on Twitter by a Chinese hacker operating under the persona @twiSpectre. That account was later suspended by Twitter.

China also has been applying pressure on Guo through detaining and imprisoning his business associates in China, in addition to other suspected hacking activities directed against the billionaire.

China denied hacking the two American entities.

Guo is a billionaire real estate developer who has become a pro-democracy activist and has been seeking to prompt reforms within what he regards as a Communist Party-dominated "kleptocracy."

Guo has presented a series of what he calls global press conferences in recent months on YouTube and Twitter.

The most recent conference was limited by the lack of YouTube dissemination. However, Guo estimates that some 200,000 people were able to view the most recent video on Oct. 14.

During that video, Guo focused on the multibillion-dollar Chinese conglomerate HNA. In the video, he outlined what he said were financial connections between HNA and Wang Qishan, a member of the seven member Standing Committee of the Politburo, the collective dictatorship that rules China under Xi Jinping.

Wang is also leading Xi's nationwide anti-corruption drive and Guo has charged that Wang is corrupt and has acquired tens of millions of dollars in secret California real estate.

In the recent video, Guo presented flight records for Hainan Airlines, which is part of HNA, showing over 160 flights taken by Wang and his family members using HNA's corporate Boeing jetliner. The flight amounted to over 10,000 flying hours and is what Guo considers evidence of wrongdoing by Wang that has not been explained by HNA.

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