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Hasan Minhaj
FILE - In this May 10, 2017 file photo, Muslim-American comedian Hasan Minhaj cracks jokes for the audience after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed May 10th as "Hasan Minhaj Day," at Gracie Mansion, in New York. In December 2018, Netflix is facing criticism for pulling an episode, from viewing in Saudi Arabia of Minhaj's "Patriot Act" that lambasted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Netflix chastised for pulling comedian Hasan Minhaj's episode in Saudi Arabia

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By MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Netflix faced criticism Wednesday from human rights groups for pulling an episode in Saudi Arabia of comedian Hasan Minhaj's "Patriot Act" series that criticized the kingdom's powerful crown prince.

The American comedian used his second episode, released Oct. 28, to lambaste Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia's censorship of Netflix is "further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression." Netflix said it was simply complying with a local law.

Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the crown prince in columns for the newspaper, was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The U.S. Senate has said it believes the crown prince is responsible for the grisly killing, despite insistence by the kingdom that he had no knowledge of the operation.

Mohammed bin Salman
In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 24, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

"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,'" Minhaj said in the episode.

Netflix, in a statement Wednesday, said the episode was removed from the kingdom as a result of a legal request from authorities and not because of its content.

"We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand from the government — and to comply with local law," the streaming giant said.

Jamal Khashoggi
FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2014, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a news conference in Manama, Bahrain. Khashoggi was one of 53 journalists killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 14. His killing sparked outrage amid the belief that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Minhaj, a former correspondent with "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, told The Associated Press this summer that his Netflix show would fuse his personal narrative as a first-generation Indian-American with the current political and social backdrop to examine deep issues confronting the world.

In the roughly 18-minute "Patriot Act" monologue, Minhaj also mentions the ruling Al Saud family and its vast wealth, saying: "Saudi Arabia is crazy. One giant family controls everything."

The Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes in Yemen have also come under intense scrutiny since Khashoggi's killing. The war, which began in March 2015, has killed thousands of civilians and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Saudi Netflix
FILE - This Oct. 11, 2011 file photo shows the exterior of Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. In December 2018, Netflix is facing criticism for pulling an episode from viewing in Saudi Arabia of Minhaj's "Patriot Act" that lambasted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

The Financial Times first reported that Netflix yanked the episode.

The kingdom's Communication and Information Technology Commission said the episode was in violation of Article 6, Paragraph 1 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law in Saudi Arabia. Officials at the commission could not be immediately reached for comment.

But Samah Hadid at Amnesty International said "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."

The Saudi cyber-crime law states that "production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers" is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine, according Amnesty International.

Saudi prosecutors have used the broadly worded law to imprison rights activists, poets and others who have expressed views deemed critical of the government or its policies on social media.

Since Prince Mohammed was named heir to the throne in mid-2017, dozens of writers, activists and moderate clerics have been jailed.

Among those detained since May of last year are women's rights activists who had long pushed for more freedoms, including the right to drive before it became legal in June.

Several people with knowledge of their arrest have told The Associated Press that some of the women detained have been subjected to caning, electrocution, and others were also sexually assaulted.

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