Jennifer Lopez performed last night for the president of Turkmenistan, a country Human Rights Watch describes as one of the most repressive in the world. According to The Guardian, J. Lo sang “Happy Birthday” to president Gurbanguly Berdymukhaedov during the performance after a last-minute request from the hosts.
The performance took place during the celebration for Berdymukhaedov’s 56th birthday at the luxury resort of Avaza on the Central Asian nation’s Caspian coast. The event was reportedly hosted by the China National Petroleum Corporation, which said that it had organized Lopez’s visit to Turkmenistan.
A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch portrays Berdymukhaedov as an authoritarian ruler who has limited his country’s access to information and restricted its citizens’ rights to international travel. “The country remains closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders face constant threat of government reprisal,” the report says. “The United Nations Committee against Torture expressed concern about allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment, and of enforced disappearances in custody.”
In a statement sent to The Associated Press, a publicist for Lopez said that the singer would not have performed in Turkmenistan at all if she had known about the human rights issues there.