“After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest,” the rapper said in a statement. “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.”
A representative for Republic, the hip-hop artist’s record label, did not say whether Nicki would ask other performers to drop out of the music festival.
On Friday, the Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York and collaborating with activists worldwide, sent a letter to Nicki urging her to pull out of the July 18 event, reminding her it is financed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“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,” the organization said, calling Nicki’s scheduled festival appearance out of line with her “commitment to education, women’s rights, and social justice”.
The nonprofit pointed out that while Minaj had celebrated the LGBTQ community during Pride Week in June, being gay is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. It also noted the kingdom’s oppression of women, targeting of activists and manipulation of the media.
In a statement responding to Minaj’s change of plans, HRF’s president, Thor Halvorssen, praised her decision.
“This is what leadership looks like,” he said. “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 and for standing up for LGBTQ and women’s rights.”
The music festival is set to occur at King Abdullah Sports City stadium, and it’s still expected to include singer Liam Payne and DJ Steve Aoki. It will be alcohol-free, in keeping with Saudi laws.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia has begun easing entertainment restrictions while attempting to repair its image after the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a crime U.S. intelligence officials believe was arranged by the crown prince.
However, that hasn’t stopped other performers from entering the kingdom. Since then, Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey, The Black Eyed Peas, OneRepublic, Jason Derulo and others have held shows there.
Thor said he hopes Liam follows Nicki’s lead and drops out of the festival, stating that her “moral stance differs” from that of other artists who’ve “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”.
This story has been updated with a statement from Thor Halvorssen.