American pop star Jennifer Lopez has sung “Happy Birthday” to the leader of Turkmenistan during a show – but her representative said she wouldn’t have performed if she had known there were human rights issues linked to the country.
The singer and actress performed in the former Soviet bloc country on Saturday night. A statement released yesterday by her publicist said the event was hosted by the China National Petroleum Corporation and wasn’t a political event.
However, the country’s leader, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, attended the show. Mr Berdimuhamedow has been criticised for oppressive rule by human rights organisations. Human Rights Watch describes Turkmenistan as “among the most repressive in the world”.
After a United Nations visit last month, Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the country had made progress in human rights, but “a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards”.
Lopez’s publicist said the event was vetted by Lopez’s staff, but added: “Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.”
Lopez is the latest celebrity to face scrutiny for performing in countries or for leaders with human rights violations.
Beyoncé, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and Usher were paid handsomely to perform at parties linked to the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. All later announced plans to donate their performance fees to charity and said they hadn’t known the leader was connected to terrorism.