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Netflix caves to Saudi Arabia’s request to block Hasan Minhaj’s show

With the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi still fresh on everyone’s minds, Saudi Arabia is back in the headlines again this week regarding censorship of another activist who is critical of Saudi Arabia’s barbaric behavior. 

Comedian Hasan Minhaj has a show on Netflix called Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. Speaking in reference to the Saudi Arabian government’s murder of Khashoggi, Minhaj said “This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won sexiest man alive. Are you kidding me? He’s the fourth sexiest judge of The Voice!”

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While this is objectively true, the Saudis weren’t amused by it, as NPR reported:

Last week, it had Netflix remove the episode in that country. As the Financial Times first reported, a Saudi regulator cited a law that prohibits the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”

In a statement to NPR, a Netflix spokesperson said, “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”

NPR goes on to explain that Minhaj also said Saudi Arabia’s actions were a “cover-up”, highlighted the fact that the United States supplies more than half of the weapons Saudi Arabia receives, criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the human rights tragedy that is occurring in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia’s horrid treatment of women’s rights advocates in their own country. 

As CNBC reported, the decision to restrict the episode in Saudi Arabia was made after Netflix received a formal legal request from the Saudi Arabian government.

A Netflix spokesperson told CNBC:”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 firm stressed that Saudi Arabia made a “legal request” and that Netflix’s response was consistent with how other U.S.-based companies operate.

While I understand that this was a business decision that they made – block one episode of a show in order to continue conducting business throughout the rest of the country – it still doesn’t make it the right move by Netflix, as many, including Sarah Leah (who is the executive director of Human Rights Watch) have pointed out.

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.

Karen Attiah also opined on the action Netflix took. Attiah was Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post.

.@hasanminhaj of @patriotact has been a strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia + Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of #khashoggi’s murder. He brought awareness about Yemen.

Quite outrageous that @netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been a big fan of Minhaj since he was on The Daily Show. And Minhaj himself just responded to the controversy on Twitter, saying the following:

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. Let’s not forget that the world’s largest humanitarian crisis is happening in Yemen right now. Please donate:

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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