Netflix drops satire episode critical of Saudi Arabia after official complaints

Netflix drops satire episode critical of Saudi Arabia after official complaints
The Financial Times reported that Netflix had taken down the episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" in Saudi Arabia after an official complaint from the kingdom.
3 min read
02 January, 2019
The episode was taken off Netflix in Saudi Arabia [YouTube]
Netflix has removed an episode of a satirical comedy show that criticises Saudi Arabia after officials in the kingdom complained, raising new questions about the limits of free online expression, a report said on Tuesday.

The Financial Times reported that the streaming giant had taken down the episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom's Communications and Information Technology Commission claimed it as a cybercrime law.

In the episode, Minhaj - an American-born Muslim of Indian descent - lashed Saudi Arabia after the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

He specifically criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and was also critical of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. 

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post, tweeted on Tuesday that Netflix's action was "quite outrageous."

Requests for reaction to the Saudi information ministry and Netflix were not immediately returned. 

But the Financial Times said Netflix had defended its decision, saying, "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 episode can still be seen in other parts of the world - and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.

Online platforms and tech companies have been facing increasing scrutiny and growing public skepticism amid controversies about data sharing and the steady erosion of privacy.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders in October ranked Saudi Arabia as 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom, adding that "it will very probably fall even lower in the 2019 index because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists."

After releasing its annual study of global internet freedom, another watchdog, Freedom House, said in November that Saudi Arabia was among those employing "troll armies" to manipulate social media and in many cases drown out the voices of dissidents.

The 33-year-old Minhaj has seen his profile rise steadily. His routines combine personal history and pointed political commentary wrapped in edgy topical humour.

In 2014 he became senior correspondent on Comedy Central's popular "The Daily Show," and in 2017 he was the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. 

"Patriot Act" debuted in October 2018.

In December, the US Senate approved two symbolic resolutions blaming the Saudi crown prince for the killing, after intelligence reports pointed in that direction, and urged an end to US participation in the Yemen conflict. 

In the latest turn of the Khashoggi saga, Turkey is persuading the UN to undertake an official investigation of the murder, known to have been carried out by a team of Saudi agents at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey is "actively" continuing its investigation and "collaborating" with other UN members.

Outrage over the Khashoggi affair has sparked an array of diplomatic consequences for Saudi Arabia, most recently including the Senate voting to block cooperation over nuclear power with the US.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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