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Jennifer Lopez performed at a birthday event for the leader of an authoritarian regime in Central Asia.
The singer and former American Idol judge appeared at the celebration for Turkmenistan leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on Sunday, Agence France-Presse reports, citing a cultural ministry official in the country. She reportedly sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
The performance was organized by China National Petroleum Corporation, which does business with Turkmenistan, a CNPC official told the AFP.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday, Lopez’s representative described the event in Turkmenistan as a “private corporate event” held by the CNPC that was “not political in nature” and was not “government sponsored.” The song was explained by the singer’s rep as “a last minute ‘birthday greeting’ request prior to Jennifer taking the stage.” Other unnamed artists also appeared at the event.
Lopez’s rep could not confirm details of any performance fees to THR.
On Saturday, the non-profit Human Rights Foundation heavily criticized Lopez’s appearance at the celebration.
“Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies, but her actions utterly destroy the carefully crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen in a statement.
Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Bloc country, has been cited for human rights abuses and authoritarian rule.
“Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries,” wrote the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch in a January 2012 report summary on the nation.”Turkmenistan continues to expand relations with foreign governments and international organizations, but without meaningful outcomes for human rights.”
The CIA’s World Factbook notes that Turkmenistan’s government “defines itself as a secular democracy and a presidential republic; in actuality displays authoritarian presidential rule.”
Lopez’s last album, Love?, debuted in May 2011 with 83,000 copies sold in its first week, according to Billboard. The singer’s website lists a single upcoming tour date, July 14 at Hyde Park in London.
The singer’s birthday appearance in Turkmenistan recalls an earlier controversy in which actress Hilary Swank attended a event for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in October 2011. Swank, who was paid to attend, ended up donating the fees earned to charity, her publicists told THR after the incident generated outrage.
Lopez’s rep confirmed to THR that the below video was taken of the corporate event in Turkmenistan, where the singer performed three songs. In the clip, she is seen singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
Updated: The full statement from Jennifer Lopez’s rep:
Jennifer Lopez and several other artists were invited and performed at a private corporate event for the China National Petroleum Corporation that was presented to their local executives in Turkmenistan.
This was not a government sponsored event or political in nature. The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.
The China National Petroleum Corporation made a last minute ‘birthday greeting’ request prior to Jennifer taking the stage. This was not stipulated in her contract but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request.
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