Jul 5, 2019

UPDATED: NEW YORK  (July 9, 2019) — On Thursday, July 18, 2019, American hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj is scheduled to perform at Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia, a state-sponsored music festival funded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) considers the Saudi regime to be one of the world’s worst human rights violators and has contacted Minaj, urging her to cancel her performance, refuse the regime’s money, and instead use her global influence to issue a statement demanding the release of the Saudi women activists who are currently in prison. HRF has also urged Liam Payne to cancel his performance at World Jeddah Fest.

Minaj, who took part in World Pride festivities in her hometown of New York City last month to celebrate LGBTQ rights, will be performing in a country where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment or death. In April of this year, at least five men were executed by the Saudi regime for admitting to sexual relations with other men after enduring months of torture.

“What is Nicki Minaj thinking? How does she participate at World Pride one week and then hop on a jet to collect millions from a regime that beheaded five gay men this past April?” asked HRF president and founder Thor Halvorssen. “There is no good reason for Minaj to do business with the Saudi dictatorship. If she proceeds with the show, she will be whitewashing the vast array of human rights crimes committed by MBS including torture, rape, extrajudicial assassination, and the slaughter of innocent civilians.”

The Jeddah World Fest would not be the first time that Minaj would perform for a dictator. In 2015, HRF condemned Minaj for agreeing to perform for the dictatorial regime of former president José Eduardo dos Santos and his family in Angola. Ultimately, despite coverage in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The Hollywood Reporter, highlighting the reasons why Minaj should cancel her appearance, she ignored expert opinion and performed for the dos Santos regime, and went so far as to use Instagram to lavish praise on the dictator’s corrupt daughter. She later claimed in a tweet that she was “high” when she made the decision to perform. This time, Minaj and her team have been briefed about MBS two weeks in advance of her scheduled performance and therefore she cannot claim ignorance.

“HRF’s hope is that Minaj, Liam Payne, and the other headliners will prioritize morals over money, cancel their scheduled performances in Jeddah, and instead use their considerable fame to issue public statements of solidarity with the millions of women living under the oppressive rule of MBS,” said Halvorssen. “If Minaj does decide to perform in Jeddah, she should do so only under the condition that the Saudi regime release Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saddah, and the rest of the Saudi women’s rights activists who have been targeted, harassed, imprisoned, tortured, and sexually assaulted by the government.”

Mohammed bin Salman has been the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2017. His campaign to silence women’s rights activists has been relentless. Saudi Arabia hosted its first public concert by a female artist just two years ago and gender segregation between unmarried men and women is still strictly enforced. Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship law requires women to obtain permission from a male for everything from registering for school to checking into a hospital. Many of the women who have advocated to lift the driving ban in Saudi Arabia are currently in jail and being subjected to torture that includes electric shocks, flogging, and rape. In April, HRF partnered with Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif to raise public awareness around the abuses of MBS and support her cross-country drive across the United States. 

In Saudi Arabia, independent media are subject to systematic legal and physical persecution. The regime even attacks media outside of its borders. One of the most recent examples of this is the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder was detailed and confirmed by Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, to be the result of a premeditated, extrajudicial execution orchestrated by the Saudi state.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Read HRF’s letter to Nicki Minaj here, and to Liam Payne here.