The Guardian: The government of Saudi Arabia makes it very clear that resistance to its regime is futile. It will not tolerate dissent; it is untouchable.
The kingdom has never claimed to be a democracy – or that it believed in free speech, the right to protest, or the right to collectively bargain for rights. There is no independent press.
The late King Abdullah introduced laws that leave no room for doubt about that position. King Salman and his son, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, continue those policies and rule with an iron fist.
Anti-terror laws were introduced to deal with such “crimes” as insulting the reputation of the state, harming the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means, sowing discord in society – and the high crime of breaking allegiance with the ruler. These hard-to-define crimes were designed to enable the arrest of anyone, for any reason.
In terms of these laws, the US comic Hasan Minhaj’s satirical Netflix episode on Saudi Arabia – controversially taken down by the streaming service after complaints from the kingdom – ticked all the boxes. If Minhaj were a Saudi citizen, he would have been hauled in for “questioning”. All his electronic devices confiscated. Every comment he had made online and in private downloaded and analysed for previous transgressions against the state (even if they were legal at the time) and his picture printed in local newspapers with a red stamp on it, branding him a traitor and possibly a spy for an external enemy (Iran).
The Saudi electronic army would have been mobilised to harass into silence anyone online who dared to come to his defence. They would defame him and his family. Accuse his mother of being a spy, a whore of the liberal left. Make fun of his ethnic background and how he was never truly a Saudi. Muse on how best he – and she – should die.
His family would spend weeks trying to locate him in the labyrinth of the Saudi prison system. After months of denials and deafening silence, his mother crying and begging authorities to let her hear his voice, to know if he is alive, his family would finally get to see him. He would shuffle in, bruised, shaking. He would wonder if working for Netflix was even worth it. The anguish he brought on his family. What a high price for a few jokes.
If he made it out alive, he might get an award for “courage”. Netflix would state that it must “respect” local laws if it wants to do business around the world. Hasan Minhaj, it would turn out, is expendable.
His friends inside the country would text each other on Signal (a secure messaging app) to ask worriedly about him. What’s the latest? What should we do? Do we speak out and risk being arrested as well? They would be overwhelmed with guilt. They would feel crushed. They would have nightmares after news of his torture and attempted suicide. They would all quietly wonder how things got so bad, and plot their escape from the kingdom. Who has a second passport? Where can we apply for asylum? What country takes the most Saudis? Canada? Germany?
Did western media not tell us that a new Saudi Arabia was on the horizon? More freedoms would be given to us young people? That we are the future and Prince Mohammed was our generation’s revolutionary and saviour?
Too much you think? Minhaj wouldn’t have been treated like this? Ask Jamal Khashoggi. Right, you can’t. He is dead. Or more precisely, dismembered.
Ask Hatoon al-Fassi, Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sada, Raif Badawi, Samar Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, Essam al-Zamel and the thousands of others still languishing in prison today. Ask Yemen.
Stop asking Netflix to do what your governments have failed to do.
• Safa Al Ahmad is a Saudi Arabian journalist and film-maker.