Jennifer Lopez got roars of approval on Saturday when she sang three songs at a corporate-sponsored concert in Turkmenistan. She wrapped up by serenading Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, president of the former Soviet bloc country, with a warm rendition of "Happy Birthday." Unfortunately, she learned after the concert that Berdymukhamedov has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including throwing journalists in prison and torturing critics of his government. Human Rights Watch calls Turkmenistan "one of the world's most repressive countries.
A publicist for Lopez said in a statement on Sunday that the pop singer "graciously obliged" when representatives of the China National Petroleum Corp., which hosted the concert, made a last-minute request for her to sing "Happy Birthday," but that she never would have attended the event in the first place had she known about the allegations of abuse.
The nonprofit Human Rights Foundation was not ready to give Lopez the benefit of the doubt. "Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies," HFR president Thor Halvorssen said in a statement, "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."
As The Associated Press notes, J.Lo is not the first celebrity to face a backlash for appearing before a sketchy audience. In 2011, Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank attended a birthday party for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov — and profusely apologized after learning he was an accused torturer. Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, and Usher faced criticism for providing entertainment at parties linked to the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and all later promised to donate their performance fees to charity, saying they didn't known he had been connected to terrorism.
Here, with some on-the-money political analysis — and sound advice — is celebrity gossip site Perez Hilton: "Time for some damage control!... We know J.Lo wasn't planning to sing to this man and she most def doesn't agree with any of the stuff he's accused of, but celebs — or at least one of the MANY people working for them — need to Google before going to parties!"