One of the very first Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj episodes dove deep into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In doing so, the host performed a critical examination of U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations with a heavy side eye toward both countries, including the U.S.’ long-standing close relationship with the Saudi regime, which is essentially ruled by one family. Minhaj then compared the shock factor of Khashoggi’s death inside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey to Blake Shelton becoming PEOPLE‘s Sexiest Man Alive. The comedian managed to (almost impossibly) infuse dark humor into an unspeakable tragedy without coming off as attention-seeking for the sake of offense, but the Saudi regime has nonetheless taken offense.
Variety reports that the episode, which was released on Oct. 28, has been pulled by Netflix in Saudi Arabia after the regime filed a legal request charging that the episode “violated the kingdom’s cyber-crime laws.” The content is still available in the U.S. with a Netflix spokesperson emphasizing in a statement that “[w]e strongly support artistic freedom worldwide.” In addition, Netflix only pulled the content “after we had received a valid legal request – and to comply with local law.”
Minhaj previously told The Atlantic’s Mallika Rao that he knew the episode (which also featured the comedian joking, “Saudi Arabia was basically the boy band manager of 9/11”) could invite repercussions against his family:
“[T]he Saudi episode hit “people who know,” Minhaj told me — meaning, members of society for whom the navigation of alliance with the country is more than a theoretical issue. For a Muslim man to question the morality of the site of Mecca and Medina, and to speak against Saudi Arabia, especially in the wake of the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is to invite fear, not only of private but also of public blowback.
The comedian also revealed that he held discussions with his family prior to filming the episode, and after it aired, he noticed a wave of social media bots (hailing from Saudi Arabia) following his various accounts. Now that the episode has been formally yanked in said country, criticism has duly arrived regarding Netflix’s move. “By bowing to the Saudi Arabian authorities’ demands,” reads a statement from Amnesty International. “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.”