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Mariah Carey faces backlash over Saudi concert amid condemnations over kingdom's human rights record

Mariah Carey will be the first female Western singer to perform in Saudi Arabia since reforms. Credit: PA

Saudi women are calling on Mariah Carey to cancel her planned performance in the kingdom on Thursday night to show support for detained human rights activists.

The singing superstar is set to play alongside Dutch DJ Tiesto and Jamaican rapper Sean Paul as part of the first international golf tournament to be played in Saudi Arabia.

But her scheduled appearance has been slammed by activists as the Gulf country faces condemnations over its human rights record.

Alia al-Hathloul, whose sister Loujain al-Hathloul, is in jail for fighting the then-ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, said she hoped Carey would use her profile to help her detained sister.

She tweeted: "Hi @MariahCarey Remember, thanks to my sister @LoujainHathloul, you r able to perform in Saudi Arabia. I wish she can attend your concert. But she’s locked behind bars because she tried to improve women's condition. Don' forget to thank her on stage."

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Women For Rights In Saudi Arabia (WARSA) launched a petition calling for Carey to boycott Saudi Arabia.

"We ask you to support us in holding the Saudi regime accountable until the activists are released and people's rights are respected and protected. Support the women, boycott repression," the group said.

Co-founder of WARSA, Al-Najjar, said artists like Carey should make their performances in Saudi Arabia conditional on the release of the women's rights activists.

The country's human rights record has been under much scrutiny since the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

The journalist was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October was met with international outrage, with the west placing the blame directly at the door of bin Salman.

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed last October. Credit: PA

Carey is the first international female star to perform in Saudi Arabia since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman relaxed restrictions on entertainment and music as part of a push to change the image of the kingdom among western investors.

But, in a statement from her publicists, Carey said she saw the opportunity to perform in front of a male and female audience in the Gulf country as a "positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation”.

“As the first female international artist to perform in Saudi Arabia, Mariah recognises the cultural significance of this event and will continue to support global efforts towards equality for all,” the statement said, adding that Carey looks forward to bringing inspiration and encouragement to all audiences," the statement said.

Loujain al-Hathloul is in prison for campaigning against Saudi's ban on women drive. Credit: AP

Omaima Al-Najjar, a Saudi woman who fled the kingdom to seek political refuge abroad, said the concerts are a diversion from the Saudi-led war in Yemen against the neighboring country's Houthi rebels, human rights abuses committed under the crown prince and repressive male guardianship laws that restrict women's freedoms.

"The Saudi government is using entertainment to distract the people from human rights abuses because it can sense the anger among the public," she said.

Tickets for Carey's concert start at around $80, with VIP seats (now sold out) as much as $530. The average monthly wage for Saudis is around $2,600, according to the General Authority for Statistics.