Riyadh allowed raunchy Netflix shows in exchange for removal of Hasan Minhaj's anti-Saudi satire show

Riyadh allowed raunchy Netflix shows in exchange for removal of Hasan Minhaj's anti-Saudi satire show
Saudi Arabia allowed sexually explicit Netflix shows to stream domestically in exchange for the company's removal of a satire show's episode that criticised the kingdom.
2 min read
15 September, 2020
Netflix's decision was viewed as enabling Saudi Arabia's crackdown on freedom of expression [Getty]
Saudi Arabia allowed Netflix shows with sexual content to stream in the kingdom in exchange for the removal of an episode of a satirical comedy show that criticised the kingdom, Netflix's co-CEO told CNN on Thursday.

In January 2019, Netflix pulled an episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" after the kingdom's Communications and Information Technology Commission claimed it to be violating a cybercrime law.

In the episode, host Hasan Minhaj lashed out at Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Minhaj, a American-born Muslim of Indian descent, also criticised the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Netflix's decision drew widespread condemnation and was viewed as enabling the kingdom's crackdown on freedom of expression.

At the time, Netflix defended its move in response to the backlash.

"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 stated.

Human rights group said the cybercrime law that was used against the episode had previously been applied to detain and torture of dozens of activists and bloggers in appalling conditions.

The episode is still available in other parts of the world, and on YouTube in Saudi Arabia.

Reed Hastings, Netflix's co-CEO, told CNN the kingdom greenlighted shows with sexual content such as "Orange Is The New Black" and "Sex Education" in exchange for the "Patriot Act" episode's removal.

The show "Queer Eye", which revolves around a group of gay men, was also available in Saudi Arabia.

"It is a troubling compromise, not something that we approach easily or likely," Hastings said. "But on balance, we think it's a good move."

In February 2019, Minhaj launched the first episode of his show's second season by addressing the censorship controversy.

"This is Patriot Act," Minhaj said in the episode's introduction. "Or as it's known in Saudi Arabia: 'Error 404 Not Found'."

Addressing the fact that the rest of his show's episodes could be viewed in Saudi Arabia, Minhaj quipped: "If you're going to crush all forms of dissent, don't half-ass it".

"But that's what happens when you've got a country run by people who got their job just because of their dad," he said in another jab at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"Ultimately, Saudi doesn't care about 'immoral content' that 'impinges on religious values'," he concluded. "They're mad that a Muslim is airing out their dirty laundry."

Agencies contributed to this report.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected