Bieber Rejects Calls to Cancel Saudi Arabia Gig

Singer played to packed crowd in Jeddah
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2021 4:05 PM CST
Despite Outcry, Bieber Play Saudi Arabia Gig
Fans of Canadian pop star Justin Bieber dance as he performs at a concert marking the end of Formula One, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.   (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

(Newser) – Justin Bieber sang his hits to a crowd in Saudi Arabia Sunday night, delighting the kingdom's Beliebers but dismaying human rights groups. The Canadian, whose Jeddah concert was part of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix events, had been urged to stay away because of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights abuses under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The AP notes that the concert would have been an "unthinkable scene" in the conservative kingdom just a few years ago, but critics say the crown prince is using such events to draw attention to efforts to modernize Saudi Arabia—and distract attention from abuses like Khashoggi's murder.

"I think what's clear is that Justin Bieber and other celebrities are being used by Saudi Arabia to deflect from the country's image as a pervasive human rights violator," Farida Dief at Human Rights Watch tells the CBC. She says a boycott from Bieber and other celebrities would send the message that "these types of spectacles that really don't reform anything at all." There has been no comment on the controversy from Bieber or his wife, Hailey, who was at the concert.

Weeks before the concert, Khashoggi's fiancee joined calls for Bieber to cancel the show "This year, you released an album that you titled Justice. You also released one titled Freedom. Saudi Arabia is in dire need of both," Hatice Cengiz wrote in an open letter at the Washington Post, where Khashoggi had written columns criticizing the Saudi government. "Do not sing for the murderers of my beloved Jamal. Please speak out and condemn his killer, Mohammed bin Salman," she wrote. "Your voice will be heard by millions. If you refuse to be a pawn of MBS, your message will be loud and clear: I do not perform for dictators. I choose justice and freedom over money." (Read more Justin Bieber stories.)

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