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Saudi Arabia: Pitbull concert draws criticism over human rights

Many called out the concert over its double standards and lack of social distancing
The concert was widely criticised online by critics who cited the crackdown on human rights defenders (AFP/file photo)

A rap concert that attracted crowds of hundreds of thousands of people in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh has sparked a backlash on social media over human rights abuses in the kingdom as well as Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen. 

Some also condemned the event for the lack of social distancing amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The concert, which took place on Wednesday, featured Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, who was backed by a number of dancers. The festival also included a parade, live bands, dramatic costumes as well as a large firework display. 

Online, many people used videos of the concert to highlight human rights abuses in the country, comparing it to the lack of freedoms dissidents, activists and critics are afforded. 

Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi’s head of the entertainment authority, opened the performance by addressing the crowds. 

Riyadh Season is an arts and culture festival running until March 2022, and will feature over 80 concerts as well as sporting events. The festival kicked off with drones lighting up images of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the sky. 

The event also sparked backlash amongst some users, who shared videos of the concert to suggest that it was inappropriate for a country that hosts one of the holiest Islamic sites to hold a concert. 

A number of people commented on the lack of social distancing at the concert. Although the country relaxed Covid-19 measures last week, the Public Health Authority has recommended that people continue with social distancing, particularly in mosques where people stand in close proximity to one another. 

Saudi Arabia has long been accused of whitewashing abuses, by hosting sports and entertainment events in an effort to enhance its image, particularly following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Public entertainment events are a major feature of Mohammed bin Salman's policy of opening up the country to western artists after decades in which cinemas were closed and concerts with mixed audiences were not permitted.

The kingdom has hosted several international sporting events, including wrestling, football and world heavyweight boxing in recent years, in an effort to diversify the economy as part of Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy.

A number of rights organisations have called out such events for going ahead while an intense crackdown on activists and political dissidents has continued. 

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Musa al-Qarni, a Saudi dissident academic and cleric, died as a result of severe beatings and torture while in detention in Saudi Arabia.