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Influencers are facing backlash for promoting Saudi Arabia music festival

At MDLBeast, Uglyworldwide, Alessandro Ambrosio, and Armie Hammer are among those being accused of ignoring the country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people

Influencers and journalist are under fire for promoting music festival MDLBeast in Saudi Arabia, while ignoring the country’s poor human rights record, especially for women and LGBTQ+ people. Model Jazelle (@uglyworldwide), Joan Smalls, Alessandro Ambrosio, Armie Hammer, and others are among those being called out.

In Saudi Arabia, gender segregation is still enforced in many areas of public life, while same-sex relationships are criminalised, and punishable by death.

The electronic music festival, which took place over the weekend in Riyadh, was billed as “the region’s biggest music event”, with its lineup including David Guetta and Steve Aoki, among others. Despite many influencers posting about the event on social media, mentions of the kingdom’s human rights record were noticeably absent. Actor Armie Hammer, who posted about the festival on Instagram, even described the festival as a “cultural shift”.

But fashion commentators Diet Prada have accused those involved of taking part in rehabilitating Saudi Arabia’s image in return for six-figure sums. An Instagram post said: “What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip? Cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia, a country said to be causing ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, according to the United Nations. According to anonymous sources, six-figure sums were offered for attendance and geo-tagged posts.”

It continued: “Following the government’s pre-meditated murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in October 2018, the arrest of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul in May 2018, the outing of a gay Saudi journalist and his partner who began receiving death threats from their families (homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death), and countless other human rights abuses, a bevy of supermodels, influencers, celebrities, and musicians convened in Riyadh for the inaugural @mdlbeast.”

Diet Prada relayed a statement by model Emily Ratajkowski, who turned down the invitation to attend the festival because of the country’s human rights record, especially for LGBTQ+ people. The statement read: “It’s very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there.”

Model Teddy Quinlivan took to Instagram to speak on the journalists and influencers attending the festival “It may be a good idea not to take money from foreign governments that, um, I don’t know, kill and openly kill journalists (and) LGBTQ + people. Suppress women’s rights, suppress religious rights. I mean the list of shit continues.”

“As an LGBTQ + rights activist, defender of human rights and gender equality, I felt it was important to talk about this issue specifically on this platform,” she continued. “We all have to be aware of what we are supporting and what we lend our platforms.”

While Saudi morality police used to crack down on establishments playing loud music, the festival is part of a ‘modernisation’ programme under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salmam, which also included the opening of its first cinema, and lifting the ban on women drivers. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the constant human rights violations, nor the brutal murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Recently, the kingdom announced it would open itself to foreign tourism, offering tourist visas and passing laws to allow unmarried foreign couples to book hotel rooms together, something that was not allowed previously.

Still, same-sex relationships are still punishable by death, and male consent is still required for a woman to leave prison, exit domestic abuse, or marry. Unlike men, women cannot pass on citizenship to their children or provide consent for their children to marry.