Hasan Minhaj tackled the Saudi Arabia censorship controversy regarding his Netflix show Patriot Act in the host’s first episode of 2019. Two months after Minhaj questioned Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in an October episode, Netflix removed the episode from the streaming service in Saudi Arabia after receiving a “valid legal request”; the episode reportedly broke an anti-cyber crime law in the Middle Eastern country barring the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”
In the latest Patriot Act, Minhaj addressed the controversy. “This is Patriot Act, or as it’s known in Saudi Arabia, ‘Error 404, Page Not Found,'” Minhaj joked. “I still can’t believe it: We got Saudi Arabia to issue its own Muslim ban… Of all the Netflix originals, the only show that Saudi Arabia thinks violates ‘Muslim values’ is the one hosted by a Muslim.”
Minhaj then broke down all the seemingly more offensive shows that are still available to stream in Saudi Arabia: Sabrina (“literal devil worship and a lot of premarital witch sex”), Bojack Horseman (“an alcoholic horse man who snorts cocaine”) and “evil” cooking shows filled with pork.
Minhaj noted that a follow-up video to the October episode was uploaded – with the obvious title “Update: Saudi Arabia” – onto Netflix in December, yet Saudi Arabia made no effort to remove that clip.
“Here’s the irony: By censoring our episode, Saudi Arabia made us go viral. Have they never heard of the Streisand effect? It was great for the show. I got 16 new IG followers,” Minhaj said. “This story got covered by everyone across the political spectrum. For the first time in my life, I was a bipartisan icon. Liberals and conservatives embraced me like I was Big Pharma.”
However, Minhaj warned, “This isn’t about just censoring one episode of a TV show, it’s the precedent, because as tech companies keep expanding, they’re gonna keep running into more censorship laws, laws that can allow government to pull any content at any time.”