Jennifer Lopez wouldn't have performed a private concert for an audience including the president of Turkmenistan last weekend had she been aware of the country's record on human rights, her publicist said in a statement reported by Reuters.
Lopez sang "Happy Birthday" to President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at a concert she gave in the former Soviet republic for executives from the China National Petroleum Corp., prompting criticism from human rights advocates who say Berdymukhamedov and the Turkmenistan government restrict free speech and jail political opponents.
"The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human-right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," said Mark Young, Lopez's publicist, who added that "Happy Birthday" was a last-minute request that the singer obliged. The statement added, "This was not a government sponsored event or political in nature."
A representative of Human Rights Watch said it would have been easy enough to vet the gig. "Just do a few Google clicks to look up their human-rights record," said Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. "It's hard to know why they [pop stars] gravitate toward these unsavory leaders. It's worth noting that these leaders want public noticeability and prestige that these celebrities offer."
Pop stars including Beyoncé and Mariah Carey had donated performance fees to charity after they were criticized for performing for former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, but Young said there's been no discussion as to whether Lopez will donate her fee to charity.
Berdymukhamedov became Turkmenistan's president in 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, who took total control of the Central Asian nation after gaining independence in 1991. His regime has been accused by the United Nations of systematic repression of its 5.5 million people, but also has the world's fourth-largest known natural gas reserves.