Netflix removed an episode of “Patriot Act” from its Saudi Arabia catalogue, because the satirical show commented on Saudi Arabia and mostly ironized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being infamous as a “reformer.”
The episode can still be watched by Saudi citizens on the Patriot Act’s YouTube channel and is still available in the US and the EU. In it, the comedian Hasan Minhaj blasts Saudi Arabia’s conduct after the Jamal Khashoggi killing, Mohammed bin Salman and the Kingdom’s role in the intervention in Yemen.
He began the episode by commenting on the journalist’s murder and saying that the entire cover-up “exists for one reason” – to protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s image as a “reformer.”
“Just a few months ago Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aka MBS was hailed as the reformer the Arab world needed,” Minhaj said.
“But, the revelations about Khashoggi’s killing have shattered that image, and it blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go ‘Oh, I guess he’s really not a reformer.’ Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like ‘Yeah, no sh*t! He’s the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,’ he continued.
He ended his introduction by saying:
Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Minhaj said in the episode. “And I mean that as a Muslim, and as an American.”
“There are people in Saudi Arabia fighting for true reform,” he continued, “but MBS is not one of them. And to those who continue to work with him, just know that with every deal you close, you are simply helping entrench an absolute monarch under the guise of progress.”
He further commented on the absurdity of the Kingdom’s cover story:
“The Saudis were struggling to explain his disappearance: they said he left the consulate safely, then they used a body double to make it seem like he was alive,” Minhaj, an American-born Muslim of Indian descent, said. “At one point they were saying he died in a fist fight, Jackie Chan-style. They went through so many explanations. The only one they didn’t say was that Khashoggi died in a free solo rock-climbing accident.”
Later in the episode, Hasan Minhaj also condemned the Silicon Valley tech giants for “swimming in Saudi cash.”
A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch was cited as saying that artists whose work is broadcast on Netflix should be outraged, adding that Saudi Arabia is not interested in allowing its citizen exercise democratic rights.
“Every artist whose work appears on Netflix should be outraged that the company has agreed to censor a comedy show because the thin-skinned royals in Saudi complained about it,” a spokesperson said. “Netflix’s claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens – not artistic, not political, not comedic.”
Netflix admitted that it had removed the show from its Saudi catalogue before New Year’s Eve and it was because of a “valid legal request” by the Kingdom’s authorities. “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law,” the company said.
Netflix said the Saudi telecoms regulator cited Article 6 of the law as reason for the request. The article states that “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $800,000 fine, the Financial times reported.
Saudi Law has been criticized in the past by Human Rights groups as a tool to suppress free speech and has been used to convict activists using social media to criticize the government.
Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post, said that it was outrageous that Netflix had caved to pressure from Saudi Arabia.
“Hasan Minhaj of Patriot Act has been a strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia + Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of #khashoggi’s murder,” she tweeted. “He brought awareness about Yemen. Quite outrageous that Netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia.
“When Jamal Khashoggi wrote about the need for free expression in the Arab world (and everywhere), that freedom is not just about journalists. It’s about freedom for artists, comedians, cartoonists, musicians, activists and anyone who wants to express their views on society.”
Other users on Twitter were also unhappy with the decision, saying that Silicon Valley tech giants allow the “murderous” MBS to dictate what can and can’t be watched on Netflix, and that people may say “it’s only removed in Saudi Arabia, but that is precisely where people need to see it.”
You suck @netflix!
This shows the tremendous danger of, as @hasanminhaj put it, "Silicon Valley swimming in Saudi cash."
Silicon Valley has allowed the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi to decide what we can and cannot watch on Netflix…
— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 1, 2019
Yes, this was pulled only in Saudi Arabia but… isn’t that where it’s the most important to show it? This is a challenge for every media and tech company trying to make money in repressive states. Sad Netflix caved on this. https://t.co/uaKk7eNKG2
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) January 1, 2019
Not ok. Netflix needs to restore the show…or we need to seriously think about boycotting Netflix. @netflix Personally I'm not interested in supporting a media outlet where the Saudis have censorship rights. https://t.co/470hoMqY8n
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) January 1, 2019
In October 2018, Reporters Without Borders published its annual World Press Freedom Index, Saudi Arabia was ranked 169th out of 180 countries, with North Korea being 180th. Even Iran ranked 164th, clearly not spectacular, but higher than the Kingdom.