Netflix pulls Hasan Minhaj comedy episode after Saudi legal threat

3 Jan 2019

Tablet displaying Netflix logo. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Netflix has removed an episode of ‘Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj’ in Saudi Arabia due to criticism of the kingdom.

Streaming behemoth Netflix has removed an episode of a comedy show critical of Saudi Arabia from its platform in the country. According to the company, the second episode of Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj was pulled following a legal threat from the Saudi government.

The threat alleged that the episode violated an anti-cybercrime law in the country. Article 6 of said law prohibits the “production, preparation, transmission or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals and privacy” on the internet. The news was first reported by the Financial Times.

Minhaj criticises Saudi regime

The episode itself features comedian Minhaj criticising Saudi officials in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. An outspoken critic of the Saudi regime, Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, with officials describing the incident as a “rogue operation”.

In the programme, Minhaj said: “Just a few months ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as ‘MBS’, was hailed as the reformer the Arab world needed. But the revelations about Khashoggi’s killing have shattered that image.”

He mocked the Saudi officials’ changing story around the death of Khashoggi and questioned the US ties to Saudi Arabia. Minhaj also criticised tech firms that benefit from Saudi funding, including Uber and SoftBank.

Netflix defends its position

Netflix defended the decision to remove the episode from its service in Saudi Arabia, stating: “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 is still available on YouTube for people in Saudi Arabia to view.

Minhaj spoke about the decision on Twitter, saying: “Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube.”

The episode is still available on Netflix elsewhere in the world. Activist groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticised Netflix’s decision.

Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at Amnesty International, 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.”

Tablet displaying Netflix logo. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects