YouTube restores account of Egypt anti-torture blogger

CAIRO Mon Dec 3, 2007 2:45pm EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The video-sharing Web site YouTube has restored the account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist, and said on Monday he may repost graphic images of purported rights abuses if he puts them in proper context.

Wael Abbas said last week that YouTube had suspended his account and that around 100 images he had posted, including clips of police brutality, purported voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations were no longer accessible.

YouTube, owned by search engine giant Google Inc, said in a statement that it was committed to preserving its site as an "important platform for expression of all kinds" while ensuring that it remains a safe environment for users.

"Our general policy against graphic violence led to the removal of videos documenting alleged human rights abuses because the context was not apparent," the statement said.

"Having reviewed the case, we have restored the account of Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas. And if he 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."

The statement did not clarify what would constitute sufficient context.

Rights activists had complained that by shutting down Abbas's account, YouTube was closing a significant portal for information on rights abuses in Egypt just as Cairo was escalating a crackdown on opposition and independent media.

RARE CONVICTION

Abbas was a key player last year in distributing a clip of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomized with a stick by a police officer -- imagery that sparked an uproar in a country where rights groups say torture is commonplace.

That tape prompted an investigation that led to a rare conviction of two policemen, who were sentenced to three years in prison for torture. Egypt says it opposes torture and prosecutes police against whom it has evidence of misconduct.

Abbas, who won an international journalism award for his work this year, had said that 12 or 13 of the images he had posted depicted violence in Egyptian police stations. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

"Abbas is seen by the country's bloggers as a key figure who alerts Egyptians to acts of torture," global media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers said in a statement. It called the suspension of his account "excessive".

The Internet has emerged in Egypt as a major forum for critics of the Egyptian government, and this year, for the first time, an Egyptian court convicted and jailed a blogger over his Internet writings.

YouTube, whose regulations state that graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed on the site, said the initial decision to suspend Abbas's account was an internal one that had "nothing to do with the Egyptian government".

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston)

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