Human rights' advocates Human Rights Watch has hit back at Netflix for removing an episode of the satirical show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its Saudi catalogue, citing "an undermining of the streaming service’s claim to support artistic freedom.”
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Netflix removed the program after the Saudi Kingdom took offense to a segment in the show that criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's alleged involvement in the brutal killing and dismembering of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi only three months ago.
According to Deadline Hollywood, the show aims to "explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity." In the episode - which is still available in the US, and on YouTube globally, the Muslim-American comedian Minhaj slammed the Saudi's role in the war in Yemen, while taking aim at bin Salman for being a self-confessed "reformer."
“Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Minhaj said in the episode. “And I mean that as a Muslim, and as an American.”
"There are people in Saudi Arabia fighting for true reform,” he continued, “but MBS is not one of them. And to those who continue to work with him, just know that with every deal you close, you are simply helping entrench an absolute monarch under the guise of progress."
The streaming conglomerate told the Financial Times that it removed the episode after receiving a complaint from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission.
The commission claimed that the episode violated a cybercrime law forbidding the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material 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,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
In October 2018, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to obtain marriage papers but wasn't seen again after that. Several weeks later it was discovered that he had been snatched by up to 18 Saudi officials, who subsequently tortured him, before strangling him to death, dismembering his body, then allegedly dissolving the body in acid, and burying it in a remote location in Turkey.
Minhaj made light of the situation, while condemning the murder, and suggesting the Saudi's knew more than they let out; “The Saudis were struggling to explain his disappearance: they said he left the consulate safely, then they used a body double to make it seem like he was alive,” Minhaj, an American-born Muslim of Indian descent, said. “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.”
Human Rights Watch told the Guardian that "artists whose work is broadcast on Netflix should be outraged," adding that Saudi Arabia has no interest in its citizens exercising democratic rights.
“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,” a spokesperson said. “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.”