As news of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death rippled across the world, an assassination that the CIA concluded was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comedian Hasan Minhaj spent the majority of an episode of his Netflix talk show “Patriot Act” examining the United States' relationship to Saudi Arabia, and Mohammed’s touted reputation as a reformer.
“The only thing he’s modernizing,” Minhaj says in the episode, “is Saudi dictatorship.”
Now, the Financial Times first reported, that episode is no longer available to view on Netflix in Saudi Arabia. The streaming service pulled it after the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission said that the episode violated a law there banning “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”
The episode had been available in Saudi Arabia for several weeks before the request.
Article 6 of the country’s anti-cybercrime law is punishable by up to five years in prison, and it has been used in the past to charge activists for organizing or sharing photos of protests online, and to crack down on satire. Netflix said in a statement to The Washington Post that it has a policy of complying with local laws, like many tech companies. “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request,” Netflix said.
The episode is still available domestically on Netflix, and to everyone on YouTube.
Minhaj spoke out about the incident Wednesday. “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. “Let’s not forget that the world’s largest humanitarian crisis is happening in Yemen right now.”
“It took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go, ‘Oh, I guess he’s really not a reformer,’ ” Minhaj said of Mohammed on the episode in question. Khashoggi was a contributing columnist for The Post’s opinion section. “Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like, ‘Yeah.’ " Minhaj added, using an expletive for emphasis. The majority of the monologue, first released in late 2018, argues that it’s time to “reassess” the U.S.-Saudi relationship — one Minhaj likens to a “marriage of convenience.”
Minhaj also looks at Saudi funding of major tech companies. Saudi Arabia, through a huge donation to SoftBank and other funds, has invested billions of dollars in Silicon Valley companies.
This isn’t the first time this particular episode of “Patriot Act” has created news. A segment that highlighted a U.S. Central Command training manual that says Saudi people have “Negro blood” prompted an apology from Centcom in November and a promise to revise the manual.
This post has been updated.