Hong Kong/New York (CNN Business) – The video starts with a teenager offering eyelash curling advice to her followers. But this is no ordinary beauty tip.
Just seconds into Feroza Aziz’s seemingly straightforward tutorial, the 17-year-old Afghan American woman tells the viewer to put down the lash curler and seamlessly transitions from eyelash curling to politics. “Use the phone that you’re using right now to search up what’s happening in China,” she states matter of factly.
She spends the rest of the 40-second clip — which has racked up more than 1.5 million views on the wildly popular short video app TikTok — criticizing the Chinese government and its detention centers, which hold mostly Muslim Uyghurs in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang.
Beijing has long insisted that the camps are voluntary “vocational training centers.” However many Western nations, including the United States, have condemned them as mass detention centers designed to eradicate Uyghur culture and Islamic practices.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday there was an “overwhelming and growing body of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is committing human rights violations and abuses against individuals in mass detention.” He called for the immediate release of all those “arbitrarily detained” and for Beijing to end the “draconian policies that have terrorized its citizens in Xinjiang.”
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China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang accused the United States of attempting to meddle in its affairs, and said there were no “ethnic, religious, human rights” issues in the region. “The measures that the Xinjiang government takes are about counter-terrorism and de-radicalization,” Geng said at a briefing on Wednesday.
In her video, Aziz rattles off a list of allegations — “how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating their families from each other” — before launching into even more serious claims of abuse. Her video has even taken on a life outside of TikTok, attracting millions of views on other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Now Aziz says she is being discriminated against by TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, for speaking out.
She told CNN Business that she was unable to access her account, and sent a reporter a screenshot of a TikTok login screen that said her account was “temporarily suspended.” She tweeted hours later that her account was “back up … very suspicious.”
On Wednesday, a TikTok spokesman denied that the company banned Aziz’s video or her account, and pointed out that the video was still available on the app.
CNN Business was able to find the video — and her account — on TikTok as of Wednesday.
“TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities,” the company said in a statement.
TiKTok’s connection to China has prompted some US lawmakers to voice concerns about whether TikTok censors content, and about whether the security of user data may be compromised.
US Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton want the US intelligence community to assess the national security risks of TikTok and other Chinese-owned platforms, saying in a statement on October 24 that such apps could be used to spy on US citizens or become targets of foreign influence campaigns.
TikTok has denied such allegations, saying last month that it has “never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked.”
TikTok has exploded in popularity and become one of the few Chinese-owned social media apps to gain traction in Western countries.
The company did say that another account owned by Aziz had been banned because she “posted a video of Osama bin Laden, which is a violation of TikTok’s ban on content that includes imagery related to terrorist organizations.” The company also said that the device associated with that account was banned from the service.
Aziz described that video as a joke that riffed on the discrimination she experienced as a young Muslim woman growing up in a white US community. That video, which CNN Business has seen and which Aziz confirmed as hers, includes a montage of men she says she likes now, one of whom is the infamous terrorist leader.
“I’ve been told to leave the country … to go marry a terrorist, and people telling me that I was ‘Bin Laden,'” Aziz said. She said she believes that account was banned because of other videos she posted that accused the news media of ignoring international crimes against Muslims.
“I highly doubt TikTok’s response,” she added. “I find this really suspicious.”
Aziz said that despite her problems with TikTok she won’t give up on spreading the message. “I am shocked that my videos have gained so much attention and have helped gain so much awareness,” she said.
“I will only speak louder about this issue. I will always speak louder.”
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