Netflix removed an episode of a comedy show that was critical of Saudi Arabia and accused the country of covering up the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to protect its crown prince.
The episode of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” that was removed from Saudi Arabia criticized Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and cast doubt on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to distance itself from the killing of Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Minhaj mocked Saudi Arabia’s changing account of Khashoggi’s death in the episode and said that the country’s evolving account of its leaders’ involvement in the killing was designed to protect Crown Prince bin Salman’s international reputation as a “reformer” of the Middle East.
Netflixconfirmed that it had pulled the episode to the Financial Times, citing a legal complaint from the kingdom.
“This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won sexiest man alive. Are you kidding me?” Minhaj, a Muslim-American comedian, said.
“This entire cover-up exists for one reason,” Minhaj said, before the show cut to clips of news reporters citing analysts who suggested that the kingdom’s changing story was designed to protect the crown prince.
Saudi Arabiahad initially claimedthat Khashoggi had safely left the consulate and said that allegations he was killed were “baseless.” After changing its story several times, it now maintains that the death was a rogue Saudi government operation.
“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 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.”
While the kingdom’s account of what happened has changed, it has maintained that the crown prince was unaware of and did not order the killing.The CIA reportedly foundthat the crown prince personally ordered the killing anda motion passed by the US Senatecondemned the crown prince over the murder.
The video can still be seen on the show’s official YouTube channel, where it had more than 1.3 million views at the time of writing.
Minhaj also criticized the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and the power and wealth of the Saudi royal family.
“It blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go ‘Oh, I guess [Crown Prince bin Salman] is not a reformer. Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like ‘Yeah, no shit.'”
Netflixtold the Financial Timesthat it pulled the episode after the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission requested its removal as it allegedly violated the anti-cybercrime 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,” it said.
Netflix cited Article 6 of Saudi Law to the Financial Times, which states that “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a crime that can be met with up to five years in prison and of up to $800,000.
Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post, criticized Netflix’s move.
“Hasan Minhaj of Patriot Act has been a strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia + Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of #khashoggi’s murder,” shetweeted. “He brought awareness about Yemen. Quite outrageous that Netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia.
“When Jamal Khashoggi wrote about the need for free expression in the Arab world (and everywhere), that freedom is not just about journalists. It’s about freedom for artists, comedians, cartoonists, musicians, activists and anyone who wants to express their views on society.”