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Netflix Removed Clip That Criticized Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Record

The Kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission asked that the clip be removed because of a law allowing a ban on digital media “impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.”

The November episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” addressed the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (YouTube screen grab)

The November episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” addressed the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Photo: YouTube screen grab)

Netflix removed an episode of the comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” that criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record after a request from the Saudi government to do so, according to a report by the Financial Times.

In the November clip, Minhaj explained why the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, is only one instance in a long list of violations. He took issue with the detainment of women’s rights activists and Saudi Arabia’s direct role in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

"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 shit.'

Minhaj addressed the reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly: “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 shit. He’s the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.’ 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 said.

At the end of the episode, Minhaj turned to Silicon Valley’s close financial relationship with Saudi Arabia. “WeWork won’t let you expense meat,” he said, referencing the startup’s July decision to ban meat over environmental concerns, “but you take money from Saudi Arabia? So you’re against slaughterhouses unless they’re in Yemen?”

The Kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission asked that the clip be removed because of a law allowing a ban on digital media “impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.”

“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,” Netflix said in a statement.

“Banning a comedy act that brings valid criticism of a government is a counterproductive measure and an affront to the freedom of expression that all citizens deserve,” said Jillian C. York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free speech and digital rights group.

“Saudi Arabia is only 2 percent of the entire Muslim population, but whenever Saudi does something wrong Muslims around the world have to live with the consequences.”

Minhaj told The Atlantic last month that he gave much consideration to whether he wanted to publicly criticize Saudi Arabia. “There was a lot of discussion in my family about not doing it,” he said. “I’ve just come to personal and spiritual terms with what the repercussions are.”

In the episode, he suggested there are also risks to not speaking out: “Saudi Arabia is only 2 percent of the entire Muslim population, but whenever Saudi does something wrong Muslims around the world have to live with the consequences.”

The clip is available on YouTube.

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Naomi LaChance

Naomi LaChance

Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network, and the Huffington Post. Her articles have also appeared in the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and Dame Magazine. She is interested in institutional corruption, ideological hypocrisy, and labor rights. Currently living in Washington, D.C., she graduated from Bard College in 2016 with a degree in nonfiction writing and historical studies.

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