Nicki Minaj Criticized by Human Rights Activists Ahead of Saudi Arabia Concert

Nicki Minaj at MTV EMAs - H Getty 2018
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Nicki Minaj

The alcohol-free event for concertgoers 16 and older is set to take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in Red Sea city.

Nicki Minaj is being criticized by human rights activists for her decision to perform this month at a music festival in Saudi Arabia, a repressive kingdom that treats women and minorities as second-class citizens.

Minaj has accepted an invitation to bring her provocative lyrics and dance to a stage at the Jeddah World Fest. The alcohol-free event for concertgoers 16 and older is set to take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in Red Sea city, according to the Human Rights Foundation, which sent a letter to Minaj asking for her to withdraw. 

"Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the individual who authorized and is financing your seven-figure performance at the event. I am writing to urgently inform you of the human rights crises in Saudi Arabia," wrote HRF CEO Thor Halvorssen.

The lengthy letter explains in great detail the rights violations that have come under the kingdom's "absolute monarchy" and legal system that is in large measure based on Shari'a law as advocated by the Wahhabi movement.

In 2014, two "peaceful dissidents" were sentenced to death and five more to long prison terms for attending demonstrations by the Shia minority and for helping journalists cover the event, Halvorssen points out.

He also notes that hundreds of online activists have been arrested and detained. In 2013, seven critics of government were given prison terms of five to 10 years for their Facebook posts.

Halvorssen and his HRF are best known for smuggling copies of the movie, The Interview, into North Korea after that nation hacked into the email system of Sony Pictures in an effort to stop the release of the film, as it is critical of leader Kim-Jong un. 

The note to Minaj also focuses on Saudi Arabia's abuse of gays and lesbians.

"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," writes Halvorssen.

Not addressed in the letter to Minaj is Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, an incident that caused an international backlash last year. The Saudi government changed its story several times before condemning the murder and the United Nations said the country was responsible for the "premeditated extrajudicial execution" of Khashoggi, whom Time magazine named its 2018 Person of the Year.

"What is Minaj thinking?" Halvorssen asked The Hollywood Reporter. "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?"

Halvorssen told THR that Minaj would be performing "while the women in the audience will be wearing a full Abaya and separated from the men. Not one woman present is allowed to be there without a male guardian or without permission from a male in her household."

The HRF sent its letter via email to Minaj, as well as to the Blueprint Group care of manager-producer Cortez Bryant and manager Gee Roberson, though she split with those three a few months ago. Another letter also went to Robert Stevenson and Ben Adelson of Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group.

"Ms. Minaj, as you can see, you are scheduled to perform at a state-sponsored event in one of the most repressive regimes on earth — a country whose leader has also led a relentless campaign to silence women's rights activists," Halvorssen wrote in his letter. "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."

Minaj was unavailable for comment.