Netflix yanked an episode of comedy show 'Patriot Act' in Saudi Arabia at the government's request

  • Netflix took down the episode following a request from Saudi Arabia's IT regulator as it allegedly violated anti-cybercrime law.
  • The U.S. streaming service said it removed the episode "after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law."
  • The episode in question takes aim at the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime, as well as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj attends Build to discuss his new Netflix special "Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King" on May 25, 2017 in New York City.
Desiree Navarro | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Comedian Hasan Minhaj attends Build to discuss his new Netflix special "Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King" on May 25, 2017 in New York City.

Netflix has pulled an episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj" in Saudi Arabia at the request of the country's government.

The U.S. streaming service took down the episode, entitled "Saudi Arabia," following a legal request from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission, as it allegedly violated anti-cybercrime law.

The news was first reported by the Financial Times, and later confirmed to CNBC.

A Netflix spokesperson told CNBC: "We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law."

The firm stressed that Saudi Arabia made a "legal request" and that Netflix's response was consistent with how other U.S.-based companies operate.

Saudi Arabia's IT regulator was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The episode in question takes aim at the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime, as well as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Minhaj, the titular U.S. comedian who hosts the series, says in the episode that "now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia."

The removal of the episode drew a backlash on social media over censorship concerns. The episode, however, can still be watched on YouTube in Saudi Arabia.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: "Netflix's claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens — not artistic, not political, not comedic."

Karen Attiah, who was Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post, said it was "quite outrageous" Netflix removed the content, praising Minhaj as a "strong, honest and (funny) voice" challenging Saudi Arabia and the crown prince.

Minhaj, known for his work on "The Daily Show," was not immediately available for comment on the episode's removal.

Former Washington Post journalist Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The kingdom initially denied any involvement in Khashoggi's death, saying he had left the consulate unharmed. Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor later admitted the murder was "premeditated."

The government has said that the murder was carried out by rogue killers, but denies a CIA assessment tying the Saudi leader to Khashoggi's death. The country has charged 11 people with the murder.

Reporters Without Borders, a pro-free press organization, ranks Saudi Arabia 169th out of a list of 180 countries in its world press freedom index.

"The level of self-censorship is extremely high and the Internet is the only space where freely-reported information and views may be able to circulate, albeit at great risk to the citizen-journalists who post online," the organization says on its website.