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Nicki Minaj Pulls Out of Festival in Saudi Arabia Following Backlash

Nicki Minaj has cancelled a July 18 performance in Saudi Arabia in a response to public backlash, The Associated Press reports. Last week, the Human Rights Foundation called for Minaj and other musicians—One Direction’s Liam Payne and Steve Aoki, among others—scheduled to play the country’s upcoming Jeddah World Fest to pull out of the festival, citing the country’s continuing record of human rights violations.

In a statement to the AP, Minaj said: “After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest. 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.”

Human Rights Foundation CEO Thor Halvorssen gave the following statement to the AP in the wake of Minaj’s announcement:

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. The July 18 festival in Saudi Arabia still shows Liam Payne as a performer. We hope that he follows Nicki Minaj’s lead. Minaj’s moral stance differs from celebrity performers like J-Lo and Mariah Carey who in the past have chosen to line their pockets with millions of dollars and stand with dictatorial governments as opposed to with oppressed communities and imprisoned human rights activists.

Despite some reforms made under the rule of Mohammed bin Salman—Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince—rights for women and LGBTQ people in Saudi Arabia are still highly restricted. Gender segregation in public places and the ongoing torture and murder of prisoners in custody was cited in the Human Rights Foundation’s original open letter. (Jamal Khashoggi was not specifically mentioned.)

“What is Minaj thinking?” wrote Halvorssen in the HRF’s initial statement. “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?”