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“What was Netflix really thinking when it caved to Saudi pressure and yanked an episode of the comedian Hasan Minhaj’s new show, “Patriot Act,” which featured a monologue criticizing a Saudi Arabian royal? Minhaj’s monologue was hardly groundbreaking—or all that consequential—given the global fury over the assassination of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution last month holding the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, responsible for the premeditated murder of the journalist. The C.I.A. also concluded with “high confidence” that the prince, who is the de-facto ruler of the desert kingdom, ordered the killing. The Turkish government leaked an intelligence tape that captured Khashoggi’s desperate final struggle, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, his execution, and the grisly sounds of a bone saw dismembering his body. Across the globe, politicians and editorial pages have condemned the Saudi leadership for its heinous behavior.
In his monologue about the Khashoggi affair, from the second episode of the series, Minhaj quipped, “Just a few months ago, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, a.k.a. M.B.S., was hailed as the reformer that the Arab world needed. It blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go, ‘Oh, I guess he’s really not a reformer. Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know is, like, ‘Yeah, no shit, he’s the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.’ ” He added, “The only thing that he’s modernizing is the Saudi dictatorship.”
As part of its wider damage-control campaign to repair its image and rehabilitate the crown prince’s reputation, the kingdom informed Netflix that the episode violated a vague but sweeping Saudi cybercrime law. The law decrees that the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy” is a crime punishable by as much as five years in prison and hefty fines. The law has been used to silence dissidents, bloggers, and activists who post videos, pictures, and campaigns online, according to Amnesty International. Netflix was apparently so rattled by the warning from the authoritarian regime that, last week, it voluntarily pulled the episode containing Minhaj’s sketch from local distribution.”
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