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U.S. defended Egyptian activist's YouTube videos

WikiLeaks cable shows U.S. State Department talked Google into restoring YouTube video showing torture and murder by Egypt's state police.

U.S. State Department officials successfully pressured Google to restore a YouTube video showing torture and murder by Egypt's state police, a WikiLeaks cable reveals.

The Cairo embassy and the State Department's bureau of democracy, human rights, and labor "worked to convince Google to restore" a prominent blogger's account that was suspended in late 2007, the recently released cable says.

Nearly a year later, the same blogger contacted the State Department to report that "YouTube removed from his website two videos exposing police abuses," including a woman being tortured at a police station and Sinai Bedouin allegedly shot by police and thrown in a garbage dump.

The cable doesn't reveal the blogger's name, but it appears to be Wael Abbas, who disclosed at the time that his YouTube channel was suspended due to complaints and the videos he uploaded replaced with this message: "This video has been removed due to terms of use violation."

There was no evidence that Google's decision was prompted by President Hosni Mubarak's state security apparatus. Rather, Abbas encountered a more prosaic obstacle: YouTube's terms of service and community guidelines, which prohibit "graphic" violence. The guidelines say "if a video is particularly graphic or disturbing, it should be balanced with additional context and information."

YouTube said in a statement at the time that Abbas could re-upload the videos if he added that context: "In this case, our general policy against graphic violence led to the removal of videos documenting alleged human rights abuses because the context was not apparent...(If Abbas chooses to) upload the video again with sufficient context so that users can understand his important message we will of course leave it on the site."

Abbas, a democracy and anti-torture activist, was subsequently targeted by state security and was convicted last year of "providing a telecommunications service to the public without permission." The International Center for Journalists presented him with the Knight International Journalism Award. Videos on his now-restored YouTube channel have received nearly 44 million views.

The State Department dispatch doesn't say what Google employees were involved in the discussions with Google, but one not-fully-redacted line mentions the name "Pablo." Pablo Chavez is Google's director of public policy in Washington, D.C. who works on topics including censorship and free speech.

Google representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Updated on February 4 to reflect Chavez' new title.

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved with this issue