Netflix criticized for yanking comedian’s episode in Saudi
By MARK KENNEDY
AP Entertainment Writer
Wednesday, January 2
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 criticize 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.
“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 due to 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.
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 now-censored “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.”
In a tweet, Minhaj mocked the censorship attempt, pointing out that the episode banned from the kingdom is available elsewhere online.
“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,” he tweeted.
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.
The Financial Times first reported that Netflix yanked the episode. The episode had been available in Saudi Arabia since late October but was pulled in December after the legal request. Only the second episode has been pulled and it is available to subscribers elsewhere.
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 to rights group 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.
Netflix’s streaming service expanded into Saudi Arabia three years ago. The company doesn’t give subscriber numbers for any country besides the U.S. but the number of customers it has in Saudi Arabia accounts for an extremely small fraction of its 137 million worldwide subscribers.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Saudi Arabia says 5 face death penalty in Khashoggi killing
By JON GAMBRELL
Thursday, January 3
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday it will seek the death penalty against five suspects in the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a killing that has seen members of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage implicated in the writer’s assassination.
Prosecutors announced that 11 suspects in the slaying attended their first court hearing with lawyers, but the statement did not name those in court. It also did not explain why seven other suspects arrested over the Oct. 2 killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul did not immediately face formal charges. The kingdom previously announced 18 people had been arrested.
Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The killing of Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of Prince Mohammed, has strained the decades-long ties the kingdom enjoys with the United States. It also has added to a renewed international push to end the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state television gave few details about the hearing.
“The Public Prosecutor demanded imposing proper punishments against the defendants and is seeking capital punishment for five of the defendants for their direct involvement in the murder,” a statement from prosecutors said, without elaborating.
The suspects requested copies of the indictments they faced, as well as asked for more time to prepare for their case, prosecutors said.
While vague on details about the case, prosecutors made a point to express concerns about Turkey. They alleged that Turkish officials did not answer two formal requests made for evidence in the case.
“To date, the Saudi Public Prosecutor has not received any response, and the Public Prosecution is still awaiting their response,” the statement said.
Officials in Ankara could not be immediately reached for comment. Turkish officials have previously said they shared evidence with Saudi Arabia and other nations over Khashoggi’s killing.
Turkey also has demanded Saudi Arabia extradite those 18 suspects to be tried there for Khashoggi’s killing. Turkish security officials have kept up a slow leak of videos, photographs and morbid details surrounding Khashoggi’s slaying to pressure the kingdom, as the two U.S.-allied countries vie for influence over the wider Mideast.
Turkish media have published photographs of members of the crown prince’s entourage at the consulate in Istanbul ahead of the slaying. Khashoggi’s body, believed to have been dismembered after his killing, has yet to be found.
Khashoggi, 59, entered the consulate Oct. 2 as his fiancée waited outside. But unbeknownst to him, a team of Saudi officials had flown in before his arrival and laid in wait for him.
Saudi Arabia denied for weeks that Khashoggi had been killed but later changed its story and ultimately acknowledged the brutal slaying. King Salman ordered the restructuring of the country’s intelligence service, but has so far shielded Prince Mohammed, his 33-year-old son who is next in line to the throne in the oil giant kingdom.
All that has not has not stopped widespread international criticism against the kingdom. Under Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia has seen the arrest of business leaders, royals and activists while also recently granting women the right to drive.
U.S. senators in December passed the measure that blamed the prince for Khashoggi’s killing and called on Riyadh to “ensure appropriate accountability.” Senators also passed a separate measure calling for the end of U.S. aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Both measures drew angry responses from the kingdom, but a renewed international effort has begun to end the Yemen war.
It is no surprise that the kingdom would seek to execute those accused in Khashoggi’s slaying. Saudi Arabia was the world’s third top executioner in 2017, behind China and Iran, according to Amnesty International’s most recent figures available.
The kingdom executed at least 146 people, according to the group. It regularly beheads those condemned to death and last year said it “crucified” a Myanmar man, an execution in which the condemned is usually beheaded and then the body put on display, arms outstretched as if crucified.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .
Even a broken clock is right twice a day
OPINION: A LOOSE CANNON FOR PEACE?
By Robert C. Koehler
Circle the wagons!
Apparently what’s under assault is war itself, or so the Establishment believes, in the wake of the shocking announcement by the president that he plans to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops now deployed in Syria and 7,000, or half, the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
No, can’t do that! Can’t do that! This screws everything up. “… we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” writes Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis in his resignation letter to Donald Trump over the issue.
And the New York Times noted that Trump’s decision “risks leaving United States’ allies in the long-running war weakened while strengthening rivals backed by Iran and Russia.
“American troops entered Syria in 2015 as part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State, which had seized large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. In the three years since, the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate has crumbled. But the continuing lack of stability in both Syria and Iraq could provide fertile ground for the jihadists to retrench.”
Sounds sensible enough until you factor in the fact that the pursuit of short-term national interests and, indeed, war itself — particularly the wars fomented by, underwritten and armed by the United States over the last two decades — are the primary cause of global instability and the upsurge of terrorism. There’s never an acknowledgment, by the war establishment, of the consequences of militarism, just an abstract discussion of strategy and “interests.”
Since Mad Dog is the face of reasonable opposition to these U.S. troop withdrawals, let me pause for a moment simply to note that, as commanding officer of the two U.S. invasions of Fallujah in the early stages of the Iraq war, in April and November 2004, he’s a full-on war criminal.
Dahr Jamail, writing at Truthout, tells us: “While reporting from inside Fallujah during (the April) siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by U.S. snipers under Mattis’ command. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes.
“During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.
“Mosques were deliberately targeted by the U.S. military, hospitals bombed, medical workers detained, ambulances shot at, cease-fires violated, media repressed, and the use of depleted uranium was widespread. All of these are, again, war crimes.”
The horror inflicted on Fallujah is, of course, merely the tippy-tip of the military iceberg, but my God, I must ask the New York Times and all the rest of the media that fell in line behind GWB and supported the horrific and pointless invasion of Iraq: Why are the consequences — and failures — of our past wars never part of the present discussion? Why is a larger vision, a peace vision, never given serious consideration when it comes to U.S. foreign policy?
“It is common,” Richard Falk pointed out in an interview with Daniel Falcone, “for media pundits to question policy choices so long as they do not touch the fundamental guidelines of structure and geopolitical priorities that have shaped the American global role ever since 1945. These fundamentals include … the globe-girdling military presence as typified by more than 800 overseas military bases, a sizable naval operation patrolling in every ocean, and a capability to wage hyper war from any point in space.”
Beyond the establishment’s offense taken, the question remains: What is the value of Trump’s decision to start shrinking U.S. involvement in several war-ravaged sectors of the Middle East?
Understandably, peace activists remain wary. He’s an America Firster who wants to wall off “USA! USA!” from the global rabble at our southern border. He’s a racist and NRA shill who feeds refugee children to his base. He’s a corrupt narcissist with fascist inclinations and an ego the size of Mussolini. He’s a loose cannon. Has he suddenly become a loose cannon for peace?
A statement released by the organization World Beyond War, which has been calling for the U.S. withdrawal from Syria since 2015, acknowledges that Trump’s plan is a beginning, but only that. In a statement released shortly after Trump’s announcement, it notes:
“Removing troops from the ground — all of them, not just some — and ceasing base construction, if it happens, will be a start.
“Even more important is ceasing to bomb from above.
“In addition, alternative approaches need to be launched, including unarmed peace workers, a weapons ban for the region, a disarmament program, major actual humanitarian aid (and an end to sanctions that harm ordinary people), and diplomacy.”
The statement acknowledges that leaving a war is enormously complex and things can get worse before they get better, especially without intelligent preparation and a willingness to invest in social healing. However: “Things have been getting worse for years all over Syria, without that ever being understood as a reason to halt the militarism.”
What has to happen next is that building peace becomes the norm. As Falk pointed out in his interview: “Humanity remains trapped in a cage sometimes called ‘the war system,’ which has the semblance of a permanent lockup.”
Without intending to, Trump may have opened the cage door. Now the hard part must begin.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.