Yesterday morning, Netflix removed an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act from its Saudi Arabian website.
The streaming service received a complaint from the kingdom claiming that the episode in question breached the country’s anti-cybercrime law. The episode removed, was the second in the first season and it directly criticized the Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (a.k.a MBS) and his government. In his 27 minutes of airtime, Minhaj explored topics ranging from Khashoggi’s death to America’s strategic relations with Saudi Arabia to MBS’s dictator-like regime.
Following the removal, the popular streaming service made an official statement saying that they “strongly support artistic freedom” and only removed it in Saudi Arabia due to the legal complaints. In contrast, Minhaj seemed more sarcastic in his response and took to Twitter to comment.
Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube.
— Hasan Minhaj (@hasanminhaj) January 2, 2019
Minhaj also used the attention on the episode to once again underscore his efforts to provide relief for Yemen.
However, the issue presented before us is one greater than an episode or a trending topic. It’s a matter of free speech or the lack of it actually. The Saudi Arabian anti-cybercrime law essentially defines five types of “cybercrimes” one of which is classified as the “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices”. The cybercrime law also prohibits the production of any material “impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy”. While these clauses may seem reasonable to the untrained ear of a citizen, journalists understand that these statements make it near impossible to speak against the Saudi government. The law doesn’t just censor the material provided to its constituents, it hinders them from having an opinion and having the freedom to speak their mind.
This isn’t the first instance of Saudi censorship either. Back in September, a Saudi prosecutor told the Independent that posting satire against Islamic religion could be punishable up to 5 years and a heavy fine thanks to a set of new, even stricter cyber laws released in the month. Restricting the content or opinion a person shares on their social media account is a hindrance to a citizen’s basic rights and personal life. Especially since all of the social media is a choice. If one disagrees with the opinions posted on a person’s account they can make the active choice to not follow that person or subscribe to their content. Another instance of censorship, one with a more drastic ending, was the death of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a heavy critic of the Saudi government, and the effects of it showed when he walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul and was murdered. While the trial of his death begins today in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Senate has accused the crown prince MBS of Khashoggi’s murder and the constantly changing narrative of the Saudi government isn’t doing much for their case. It is clear that Saudi censorship goes beyond the people living in the country and is an issue that needs to be tackled.
Censorship’s issues are multi-faceted. At surface level, the problem appears to be the lack of freedom of speech. A country in which the citizens don’t have the right to publicly speak their mind is a country which doesn’t value the voice of its citizens at all. However, another issue which presents itself is the filtration of news. If the government bans any videos that speak against their actions, then the people of the country will only receive half of the story. Even if they understand how repressive their government is, they physically won’t be able to access the forms of media that could potentially be providing the truth.
Hasan Minhaj’s encounter with the Saudi government is just another reminder of how many people don’t have the liberty to openly discuss their opinions as we, the people of America, do. Censorship is constantly working to hinder free speech, hide the truth, and undermine the foundations of journalism. This is an issue we must put an end to.
After all, we can’t let MBS kill the truth like he did Jamal Khashoggi.
Featured Image Via SOFAB1 on Flickr