Netflix’s decision to pull an episode of a show critical of Saudi authorities risks facilitating a crackdown on freedom of expression in the kingdom, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
“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.”
Netflix on Tuesday confirmed it had pulled an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj in which the comedian lashed out at Saudi Arabia after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
An American-born Muslim, Minhaj specifically criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and was openly critical of the Saudi-led military campaign in war-hit Yemen. Netflix said it had pulled the episode after a “valid legal request” in order to comply with local law.
Under Saudi Arabia’s sweeping cyber crime law, the storage or use of data that could be used for defamation is banned. Disseminating or storing material “impinging on public order, religious values, public morals and privacy” is also a punishable offense.
Dozens of Saudi citizens have been convicted on charges linked to dissent and under the cyber crime law in recent years, particularly linked to posts on Twitter.
Prince Mohammed launched an aggressive campaign to soften the international image of ultraconservative Saudi Arabia after his sudden appointment as heir to the throne in June 2017. But authorities in the kingdom continue to draw criticism from rights group over the targeting of human rights activists and political dissidents.