Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Netflix draws fire for blocking satire critical of Saudi Arabia



Netflix draws fire for blocking satire critical of Saudi Arabia

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Netflix drew fire from human rights activists on Wednesday after agreeing to block an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its service in Saudi Arabia over comments critical of the kingdom and its crown prince. JESSE GRANT/AFP

Netflix draws fire for blocking satire critical of Saudi Arabia

Netflix drew fire from human rights activists on Wednesday after agreeing to block an episode of a satirical comedy show from its service in Saudi Arabia over comments critical of the kingdom and its crown prince.

In the episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, the US-born Muslim lashed out at the kingdom over the October killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Minhaj specifically criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been blamed for the killing, and was also critical of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

The move by Netflix to block the show was widely denounced by rights groups including Amnesty International, which warned it risks further eroding freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Minhaj himself weighed in on Twitter with a jab at Netflix – and an appeal for humanitarian relief in Yemen, where Saudi bombings have taken a toll in the ongoing civil war.

“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,” the comedian said.

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

The streaming giant said it was required to take down the episode after Saudi authorities said it violated the country’s cyber-crime statute. The episode can still be seen in other parts of the world – and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.

No free expression

Netflix said the Saudi request was made under Article 6 of the law, 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 punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $800,000.

“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request – and to comply with local law,” a Netflix spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday.
But Samah Hadid, Amnesty’s Middle East campaigns director, was scathing.

“Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix is further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression in the kingdom,” Hadid said.

“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.”

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch likewise warned that “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.”

In December, the US Senate approved two symbolic resolutions blaming Prince Mohammed for the killing of Khashoggi, after intelligence reports pointed in that direction, and urging an end to US participation in the Yemen war.

‘Quite outrageous’

In October, the press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranked Saudi Arabia as 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom, adding that “it will very probably fall even lower in the 2019 index because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists.”

After releasing its annual study of global internet freedom, another watchdog, Freedom House, said in November that Saudi Arabia was among those employing “troll armies” to manipulate social media and, in many cases, drown out the voices of dissidents.

Minhaj, 33, has seen his profile rise steadily in recent years. His routines combine personal history and pointed political commentary wrapped in edgy topical humor.

In 2014, he became senior correspondent on Comedy Central’s popular The Daily Show, and in 2017 was the featured speaker at the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

Patriot Act debuted in October last year.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and