Call this a case of life intimidating art. Netflix has removed an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from streaming in Saudi Arabia after that country’s government complained that it showed the kingdom in a negative light.
The episode focused on Saudi Arabia in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Among the topics host Hasan Minhaj touched on were Silicon Valley “swimming in Saudi cash” and criticisms of young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his kingdom-backed war in Yemen.
“Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” the Patriot Act host said in the pulled episode. “And I mean that as a Muslim, and as an American.”
The Saudi government cited a local Saudi statute as its reason to request that the episode be removed. Per Article 6 of that law, “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. The punishment? A maximum of five years in prison and a fine of as much as $800,000. Netflix complied with their legal demand as they always comply with local law in the countries where they operate.
The streamer released a statement, saying, “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.”
However, the Saudi government did not request the segment be removed from YouTube. It is still posted and is available to view.
Minhaj responded to Netflix’s decision with a bit of derisive humor, noting on Twitter that, “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.”
Critics say said law suppresses free speech and has been used to convict people who use social media to criticize the Saudi government.