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Netflix Drops Satire Episode Critical Of Saudi Arabia

Netflix has removed an episode of a satirical comedy show from its service in Saudi Arabia over its criticism of the kingdom, following a legal request by officials in Riyadh.

The move was widely denounced by rights groups including Amnesty International, which said it risks facilitating a crackdown on freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

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

He specifically criticised Crown Prince and was also critical of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) arrives at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, on April 8, 2018, ahead of a state visit.<br />Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in France on April 8, for the next leg of a global tour aimed at reshaping his kingdom’s austere image as he pursues his drive to reform the conservative petrostate. / AFP PHOTO / Saudi Royal Palace / BANDAR AL-JALOUD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD” – NO MARKETING – NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / “The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this handout photo by the Saudi Royal Palace has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [Saudi Royal Palace] instead of [Ahmed Nureldine]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.”

“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 Tuesday.

The streaming giant added it had received a takedown request citing an article of its cybercrime law as the reason.

Article 6 of the law 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 not exceeding 3 million Saudi riyals ($800,000).

The episode can still be seen in other parts of the world — and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.

– ‘Quite outrageous’ –

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.

“Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix… is further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression in the kingdom,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty’s Middle East campaigns director.

“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.”

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at The Washington Post, said Netflix’s action was “quite outrageous.”

The Saudi information ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

– Low ranking on press freedom –

Online platforms and tech companies face increasing scrutiny and growing public skepticism in the face of controversies about data sharing and the steady erosion of privacy.

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 2018.

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