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Netflix pulls episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show that criticizes the Saudi government

Netflix pulls episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show that criticizes the Saudi government
[Photo: courtesy of Cara Howe/Netflix]

The streaming giant has removed the second episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its service in Saudi Arabia after receiving a request from the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission, reports the Financial Times.

The episode focused on America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. In it, 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” before going on to criticize Saudi Arabia’s role in the ongoing Yemeni civil war as well as criticizing Silicon Valley for “swimming in Saudi cash.” That last point refers to Saudi Arabia’s aggressive investment strategy in foreign technology companies like Uber, as well as its financial backing of Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund, which invests billions in overseas companies–including those in the United States.

The reason the CITC gave Netflix when it ordered the removal of the episode from its Saudi service was that it violated Article 6 of the kingdom’s anti-cyber crime law. That article states that “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. However, many civil liberties organizations have criticized the Saudi government for its use of the anti-cyber crime law, saying it’s nothing more than a tool used to suppress free speech.

As for Netflix, the company defended its decision to remove the episode, 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.”

It’s unknown how many times before now Netflix has removed content from its service at the request of governments. Unlike other technology giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, Netflix does not publish information about how many government takedown requests it receives.

If there is a silver lining to any of this it’s that people in Saudi Arabia can still watch the pulled episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. As of the time of this writing, it’s still available on YouTube in the country. And if it is pulled from there too, users may be able to use a VPN to view it.

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