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Netflix Pulls Comedy Show Episode Critical of Saudi Arabia

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FILE - The exterior of Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California.

Media streaming company Netflix has removed from its service in Saudi Arabia an episode of a satirical comedy show that is critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" has been available on the U.S. version of the platform since October, and was taken off the Saudi version last week.

"We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we received a valid legal request -- and to comply with local law," Netflix said in a statement.

The Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia's Communications and Information Technology Commission had complained about the episode.

Amnesty International Middle East Campaigns Director Samah Hadid said the Saudi government's censorship of Netflix is "further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression."


Minhaj, who appeared on cable television's popular "Daily Show" and hosted the White House Correspondents' Association dinner before launching his own show last year, discussed a number of criticisms about Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed.

Those included the October killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Arabia gave multiple explanations about Khashoggi's death before acknowledging he was killed at the consulate, but it says that was the result of a rogue operation and was not carried out at the order of the crown prince.

"Just a few months ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, was hailed as the reformer the Arab world needed," Minhaj says in the episode. "But the revelations about Khashoggi's killing have shattered that image, and it blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go, 'Oh, I guess he's not really a reformer."

Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post, Karen Attiah, called the decision by Netflix "quite outrageous."

She wrote on Twitter that Minhaj "has been a strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of #khashoggi's murder."

Attiah also praised Minhaj for bringing awareness about the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been leading a military campaign that rights groups have criticized as taking a huge toll on civilians.

In the episode, Minhaj cites an April donation Saudi Arabia made to the World Health Organization for humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

"You know what's free though? Not bombing Yemen," Minhaj says.

He also suggests the United States should reassess its close ties with Saudi Arabia.

"Suddenly America's marriage of convenience with Saudi Arabia is starting to feel outdated," he says.

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