NEW YORK (July 17, 2019) — Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Future, Chris Brown, and Tyga are scheduled to perform at a concert tomorrow in Saudi Arabia. In a surprise, last-minute announcement, the Jeddah World Fest has added these high-profile performers to their concert, which is funded and authorized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), one of the world’s worst human rights violators.
Last week, their top-performer, Nicki Minaj, publicly cancelled her performance in solidarity with the Saudi LGBTQ+ community, Saudi women, and the principle of freedom of expression.
“It’s clear that, after losing Nicki Minaj on the basis of the Saudi regime’s atrocious human rights record and their treatment of women and the gay community, the Crown Prince has chosen to spend whatever it takes to give the appearance that things are normal and that this is just another concert. Except it isn’t,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). “It’s a blatant public relations push on the heels of the pre-meditated assassination of a Washington Post columnist and the ongoing imprisonment of dozens of human rights activists. Saudi is engaged in a sophisticated campaign of distraction. It’s baffling to the fans of Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Liam Payne, and these other artists, that despite knowing all of this, they still intend to perform. It’s profoundly distressing that they have chosen money over morals. These individuals constantly make public statements of support for LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, and women’s rights, except, apparently, when a seven-figure check is attached. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Principal apparently matters to them far more than principles.”
HRF has written individually to each of these performers and explicitly referenced their previous positions on matters of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, public policy, and police brutality. These letters describe the disastrous state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a fully authoritarian regime under which there is no independent judiciary, no independent media, and where citizens have no freedom of thought, expression, religion, or association. There is no guarantee of independence in the administration of justice or respect for the fundamental rights of people who live in Saudi Arabia. This is especially true for those who openly express their disagreement with the government, such as the women who advocated to lift the driving ban and who are currently in jail, where they are being subjected to torture by electric shock, flogging, and rape.
The artists who are scheduled to perform in Saudia Arabia tomorrow have a long track record of supporting human rights causes:
- In 2008, Janet Jackson received the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Vanguard Award. In 2010, she partnered with the Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign to support an initiative to reduce suicide and promote mental health among LGBTQ+ youth. In 2017, she received Out Magazine’s Music Icon Award. She accepted the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Awards (and as the first black woman to do so) and stated: “Women have made it clear we will no longer be controlled, manipulated, or abused.” That same year, after accepting the Global Icon award at the MTV Europe Music Awards, she said the world could no longer tolerate gender inequality. Jackson also voiced her concern for gender inequality at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival saying: “I’m sick, I’m repulsed, I’m infuriated by the double standards that continue to [put] women as second-class citizens. Enough!”
- Tyga was outspoken when the artist A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden. On Twitter he promoted the hashtag #FREEASAPROCKY and even went so far as to cancel his scheduled performance there on July 14. To that end, why wouldn’t he use the hashtag #FREELOUJAIN and cancel his Saudi Arabia appearance in solidarity with the imprisoned artists and activists there?
- Chris Brown publicly expressed his frustration about artists who fail to raise their voices in favor of positive change. Expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, he said: “I am asking all the celebrities and people with actual voices … how about we speak up right now and help people? Can our voices actually mean something? Please?”
- In 2011, 50 Cent performed for the enjoyment of the family of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The public outcry and embarrassment was slow in coming but when it came it compelled him to donate his dictatorial paycheck to UNICEF.
HRF believes that the participation of these artists in a festival sponsored by a murderous, repressive regime involved in gross human rights violations — especially of women and sexual minorities — would be highly unfortunate and would send the message that dictatorial regimes can simply purchase the endorsements of high-profile celebrities while simultaneously discouraging those in the population seeking to bring about peaceful transformation. HRF hopes that these artists will stand up for human rights, women’s rights, and the rights of sexual minorities by being outspoken when they take the stage in Saudi Arabia tomorrow.