Nicki Minaj has been called out by human rights activists over an upcoming performance in the ultraconservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The “Megatron” rapper, who is known for her sexy lyrics, raunchy music videos, and provocative dance moves, is set to headline the state-sponsored Jeddah World Fest on July 18. She will share a stage with DJ Steve Aoki and former One Direction star Liam Payne at the alcohol- and drug-free event, where female attendees will be required to wear modest full-length robes known as abaya.
On Friday, the Human Rights Foundation published a five-page open letter to Minaj asking her to pull out of the festival, which is funded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I am writing to urgently inform you of the human rights crisis in Saudi Arabia; to explain the role that the regime of MBS has played in violating the rights of tens of millions of Saudis; and to request that, in light of your status as a global personality, you cancel your appearance as a symbol of solidarity with the ongoing suffering of the Saudi people,” HRF president and founder Thor Halvorssen wrote. “Since coming to power in 2017, MBS has spearheaded a crackdown on human rights, especially those of the women who live in his Kingdom.”
Halvorrsen added, “You recently celebrated Pride Week to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Yet, if you move forward with this performance, you will be condoning, and serving the public relations needs, of a government that executes homosexuals for the ‘crime’ of being who they are. Just three months ago five gay men were beheaded after they confessed to crimes under torture. If you move forward with this performance for a festival sponsored by the Crown Prince, you will be in league with the people who respond to freedom of expression and thought with murder.”
Halvorrsen’s letter did not mention Minaj’s fellow performers or ask them to pull out of the festival.
Other artists who have recently performed in Saudi Arabia — sometimes despite objections — include Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas, and David Guetta.
Minaj previously came under fire in 2015 for performing in an event in Angola associated with the government, which has also been accused of violating human rights laws. A letter from Halvorssen at the time told Minaj that her payment for the show would be funded from “government corruption and human rights violations.”
Some of Saudi Arabia’s strict rules have been loosened under Mohammed bin Salman, such as women being allowed to drive and attend sporting events in stadiums. In 2018, Riyadh opened its first movie theaters after a ban that lasted 35 years.
Minaj has not publicly addressed the recent controversy, and a representative for the rapper did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.