Netflix pulls comedy show episode in Saudi Arabia

(Reuters) - Netflix withdrew an episode of the comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” from its Internet streaming service in Saudi Arabia after officials of the kingdom complained, the company said on Wednesday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The episode of the news-comedy program in question criticized the country over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

Amnesty International denounced “Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix” as “further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression”.

Khashoggi had been an outspoken critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler. The kingdom has since acknowledged publicly that the columnist, who was a permanent U.S. resident, died in its custody.

“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand from the government -- and to comply with local law,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

“This demand was consistent with Saudi law and so we have removed it in Saudi only,” the spokesperson said, adding that the move “doesn’t mean we agree with these laws”.

Saudi officials were not immediately available for comment.

In the episode, first aired in the United States in October, Minhaj said, “Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I mean that as a Muslim and as an American.”

He also criticized the kingdom for its involvement in the Yemen war and described it as being autocratic.

The Netflix spokesperson added that the Saudi government had not asked the company to remove the clips from YouTube, and it had not done so.

“The authorities have previously used anti cyber-crime laws to silence dissidents, creating an environment of fear for those who dare to speak up in Saudi Arabia,” Amnesty’s Middle East director of campaigns Samah 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,” Hadid said in a statement.

Reporting by Rich McKay; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean