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Netflix pulls episode of 'Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj' after Saudi complaint

The comedian criticized the country's crown prince over the Khashoggi murder. “Saudi Arabia was basically the boy band manager of 9/11,” he also joked.

Netflix has removed a satirical comedy show from its service in Saudi Arabia following a complaint from authorities in Riyadh.

The streaming service took down an episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" which was critical of the kingdom’s rulers following the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Image: Hasan Minhaj
Hasan Minhaj.Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

Netflix said it had been told the episode breached Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law, which states that anyone who produces, prepares or transmits material “impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy” will be subject to imprisonment for a period of up to five years and/or a fine of up to $799,850.

In the episode which has been available since October, Minhaj criticizes Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been blamed by the U.S. Senate for being responsible for Khashoggi's death in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year.

“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,'” Minhaj said, referring to the royal who is widely known as MBS. “Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like, ‘Yeah, no s---, he’s the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.'”

Minhaj goes on to raise questions about Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, which he said needs to be reassessed.

“Saudi Arabia was basically the boy band manager of 9/11,” he said, referring to the fact that many of the September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Netflix said it took down the episode to comply with local law.

“We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand," a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.

Minhaj weighed in on the move on Monday afternoon, pointing out that the ban had only brought more attention to the segment and urging people to donate to help people in Yemen.

"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," Minhaj tweeted.

Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the incident was further proof of "a relentless crackdown" on freedom of expression in the kingdom.

“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," Hadid said.

Netflix is not the only media giant to encounter difficulties navigating the issue of censorship abroad in recent months. Google came under fire from rights groups and its employees in November for designing a censored search engine for the Chinese government.

In an open letter to their employer, Google workers urged the company to drop the project known as Dragonfly and said they no longer believed the company was “willing to place its values above its profits.”