Netflix Pulls TV Show From Saudi Arabia That Accuses Kingdom of Khashoggi Murder Cover Up
At the request of the Saudi Arabian government, Netflix deleted an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” that accused the Kingdom of covering up journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
“Saudis were struggling to explain his disappearance,” Minhaj said in the episode titled Saudi Arabia, which first aired on Netflix on October 28. “They said he left the consulate safely, then they used a body double to make it seem like he was alive. At one point they were saying he died in a fist fight, Jackie Chan-style. They went through so many explanations. The only one they didn’t say was that Khashoggi died in a free solo rock-climbing accident.”
Minhaj continued that the only reason for the coverup was to protect the crowned prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has since been unanimously condemned by the U.S. Senate for Khashoggi’s murder. “It blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go, ‘Oh, I guess [bin Salman] is not a reformer. Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like, ‘Yeah, no shit.'”
The Saudi Arabian government, however, was not laughing at Minhaj’s pointed satire.
The Financial Times was first to report Tuesday that Netflix pulled the show from streaming in Saudi Arabia last week after the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission alleged that it violated an anti-cyber crime law.
“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 told the FT in a statement. Netflix, which did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment, also noted that the episode is still available in other countries and could still be streamed in Saudi Arabia on the show’s YouTube channel.
Netflix’s response, however, has been largely criticized by human rights organizations and advocates.
“The authorities have previously used anti-cyber-crime laws to silence dissidents, creating an environment of fear for those who dare to speak up in Saudi Arabia,” Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “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.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, also slammed the streaming company
“Netflix’s claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens – not artistic, not political, not comedic,” Whitson tweeted. “Every artist whose work appears on Netflix should be outraged that the company has agreed to censor a comedy show because the thin-skinned royals in Saudi complained about it.”
After a brief period of silence, Minhaj weighed in on the situation Wednesday afternoon.
“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,” he tweeted.
Previously, Minhaj talked about his decision to discuss Khashoggi’s murder on his show.
“There was a lot of discussion in my family about not doing it,” Minhaj told the Atlantic in a recent interview. “I’ve just come to personal and spiritual terms with what the repercussions are.”