In Brief

Why Netflix removed stand-up routine criticising Saudi Arabia

Streaming giant criticised for censoring show in which Riyadh is mocked over Khashoggi killing

Netflix has come under fire for blocking a satirical comedy show from streaming in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom complained about a segment focusing on the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

The controversial episode of Patriot Act features host Hasan Minhaj joking about the Saudi attempts to explain the journalist’s death inside its consulate in Istanbul last year, CNN reports. Minhaj tells the audience: “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.”

It is widely believed that Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was killed on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, Riyadh insists the killing was organised by rogue elements within the regime.

Responding to criticism over the decision to pull Patriot Act, Netflix said: “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 episode remains accessible in all other regions.

The streaming giant added that Saudi officials had threatened prosecution under the kingdom’s cybercrime law, which prohibits “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers”. Contravention of the law is punishable by up to five years in prison.

But Human Rights Watch executive director Sarah Leah Whitson tweeted 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”.

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s former editor at The Washington Post, added that it was “quite outrageous that Netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia”.

Netflix previously blocked three shows about drug use in Singapore after local authorities objected.

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