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Janet Jackson, Chris Brown perform at Saudi music festival despite heavy criticism

Jenna Salmers | posted Friday, Jul 19th, 2019

The Human Rights Foundation and other organizations urged artists to cancel their scheduled appearances at Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia yesterday to stand with women and LGBTQ+ rights. Nicki Minaj canceled due to controversy but Janet Jackson headlined alongside Chris Brown, Liam Payne, and 50 Cent.

The website for the event states it is, “For absolutely everyone to attend. We are all-inclusive for all people,” although there is still gender segregation in many places in Saudi and homosexuality is punishable by death.

In a tweet last week, the HRF urged artists to pull out: “Use your influence for good & stand in solidarity with the Saudi #HumanRights activists who are currently in prison.”

The tweet is in reference to the Saudi women’s rights activists who are currently in prison following a sweep of arrests that occurred just weeks before the driving ban was lifted last year.

Multiple were charged with crimes related to their activism and have remained in prison for more than a year, enduring torture and awaiting their trials shrouded in secrecy.

Saudi laws have restricted women for decades and although reform is underway, there are still many cases of abuse that have overshadowed, including guardianship laws that have kept them out of public life.

These laws ensure that a woman will always be under the guardianship of a man– whether it is her father, husband, or even son if they’re widowed.

Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, criticized the entertainers performing at Jeddah World Fest in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press, saying it was, “profoundly distressing that they have chosen money over morals.”

Halvorssen also praised Minaj for pulling out of the event: “This is what leadership looks like. We are grateful to Nicki Minaj for her inspiring and thoughtful decision to reject the Saudi regime’s transparent attempt at using her for a public relations stunt”.

Minaj responded, “While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression”.

Over the past few months, Saudi has hosted multiple American artists such as Mariah Carey and the Black Eyed Peas. This is a stark change from Saudi morality police raids in establishments that played loud music just a few years ago.

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