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Netflix censorship risks helping Saudi crackdown: Amnesty

Saudi authorities continue to draw criticism from rights group over the targeting of activists [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 2 January, 2019

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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.
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 criticised 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.

The episode can still be seen in other parts of the world - and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.

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 offence.

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.

'Quite outrageous'

In October, the press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranked Saudi Arabia as 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom, adding that "it will very probably fall even lower in the 2019 index because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists."

After releasing its annual study of global internet freedom, another watchdog, Freedom House, said in November that Saudi Arabia was among those employing "troll armies" to manipulate social media and, in many cases, drown out the voices of dissidents.

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's editor at The Washington Post, said Netflix's action was "quite outrageous."

The Saudi information ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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.

In December, the US Senate approved two symbolic resolutions blaming Prince Mohammed for the killing of Khashoggi, after intelligence reports pointed in that direction, and urging an end to US participation in the Yemen war.

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