J-Lo Singing Happy Birthday to a Brutal Dictator Was a Last Minute Idea

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Jennifer Lopez came under fire for singing "happy birthday" to Turkmenistan leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who has been criticized by his fair share of human rights organizations in the past, but her representatives claim it was a last minute request and they had no idea he was so evil.

The concert was on the up and up, Lopez's team told The Hollywood Reporter. She was brought to  Turkmenistan by the China National Petroleum Corporation to perform at a lavish party for Berdymukhamedov and had no idea she would be singing "happy birthday, Mr. President" in traditional Turkmen dress with performers from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and China. It was a last minute request, they claim:

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.

On Saturday, the Agence France-Presse reported Lopez serenaded the Turkmenistan's Berdymukhamedov with the birthday ditty at the expensive celebration at the $2 billion Caspian Sea resort in Turkmenistan. She was the first western performer to ever visit the country and perform for the crowd of ministers, ambassadors and CEOs. The performance was organized by China National Petroleum Corporation, which does business in the oil rich country, the company told the AFP. But the performance was reflecting poorly on J-Lo because besides their oil reserves, Turkmenistan is best known for being a former Soviet bloc country with a questionable human rights record.

"Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries," said a January 2012 report from Human Rights Watch. "Turkmenistan continues to expand relations with foreign governments and international organizations, but without meaningful outcomes for human rights." The CIA's World Factbook calls out Turkmenistan's government for defining "itself as a secular democracy and a presidential republic," when it "in actuality displays authoritarian presidential rule."

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At least one human rights group took aim at Lopez directly after the news of fer performance came out. "Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies," said Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen, "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." 

It will be interesting to see whether this will be a minor weekend flare up or if the bad press will continue through the week. Performances for the Qaddafis didn't stop Mariah Carey, Usher or Beyoncé from succeeding back on home soil so it seems unlikely this will have any effect on J-Lo. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.