Netflix under fire for pulling comedy episode after Saudi complaints

‘Patriot Act’ instalment that is critical of the kingdom is removed from streaming service

Netflix has withdrawn an episode of a comedy show from its streaming service in Saudi Arabia after complaints from the kingdom’s officials. File photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Netflix has withdrawn an episode of a comedy show from its streaming service in Saudi Arabia after complaints from the kingdom’s officials. File photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

 

Netflix withdrew an episode of the comedy show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its streaming service in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s officials complained about it, the company said on Wednesday.

The episode in question criticised the country over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

Following the news, Amnesty International denounced “Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix” as “further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression”.

Khashoggi had been an outspoken critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler. The kingdom has since acknowledged publicly that the columnist, who was a permanent US resident, died in its custody.

“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand from the government – and to comply with local law,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

“This demand was consistent with Saudi law and so we have removed it [the episode] in Saudi only,” the spokesperson said, adding that the move “doesn’t mean we agree with these laws”.

Saudi officials were not immediately available for comment.

In the episode, first aired in the US in October, Minhaj said: “Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I mean that as a Muslim and as an American.”

He also criticised the kingdom for its involvement in the Yemen war and described it as being autocratic.

The Netflix spokesperson said the Saudi government had not asked the company to remove the clips from the episode on YouTube, and it had not done so.

In a statement, Amnesty’s Middle East director of campaigns Samah Hadid said: “By bowing to the Saudi Arabian authorities’ demands, Netflix is in danger of facilitating the kingdom’s zero-tolerance policy on freedom of expression and assisting the authorities in denying people’s right to freely access information.” – Reuters