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Nicki Minaj says feared arrest at Saudi Arabia Jeddah World Fest

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Nicki Minaj said that part of the reason she decided to pull out of a music festival being held in Saudi Arabia is that she worried about inadvertently breaking the country’s strict laws.

Minaj on Tuesday pulled out of Jeddah World Fest— the largest ever Saudi pop concert — after “better educating” herself about the country’s human rights record.

Writing on Twitter after the decision, Minaj said she worried she could fall foul of Saudi rules and end up in imprisoned.

“I could make one mistake & go to jail in a diff country where women have no rights,” she wrote.

Minaj’s songs have lyrics about female sexual and social empowerment, and references to drugs, and alcohol.

Homosexuality and drinking alcohol are illegal in Saudi Arabia, where women are formally subjugated under the law.

Jeddah has a reputation as the most liberal Saudi city, but is still subject to its rules.

Minaj attends a fashion event in New York City on 16, 2018.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for ELLE

Women’s rights in the Kingdom are strictly limited by the legal guardianship system, which requires every woman to have a male “guardian” who is responsible for her.

Read more: The Saudi government is hunting down women who flee the country by tracking the IMEI number on their cellphones

Many women attending the festival will wear a full body covering, like a burqa or niqab, coupled with a cloak called an abaya.

Jeddah World Fest, scheduled for July 18.
Jeddah World Fest

The Kingdom’s human rights record has been under intensified scrutiny since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

Being gay in Saudi Arabia is punishable with the death penalty, as those convicted of some drug crimes. Possessing alcohol can merit 300 lashes, and a year in jail.

Minaj’s decision came after The Human Rights Foundation on Friday demanded that Minaj cancel her appearance.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

“The Human Rights Foundation considers the Saudi regime to be one of the world’s worst human rights violators and has contacted Minaj, urging her to cancel her performance, refuse the regime’s money.”

Minaj engaged with some of her Saudi fans on Instagram on Tuesday, asking “can an openly gay person go to the concert without being arrested?”

Read more: This chart shows how Saudi Arabia is on course to behead more people than ever before in 2019

Saudi Arabia has relaxed some laws in recent times. In 2018, cinemas were opened for the first time in 40 years. Around the same time new laws permitted women to attend sports events, and also to drive a car.

The Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Ali Al-Awartany/Shutterstock

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has also become more of a fixture in the touring schedules of western pop stars. Artists like Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul, and David Guetta, have all played in the country.

Reacting to Minaj’s decision to abandon the festival, Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation said: “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.”

Liam Payne and Steve Aoki are still scheduled to perform at Jeddah World Fest. It is organized by Saudi Seasons, a state-sponsored project to make Saudi Arabia a desirable tourist destination.

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