Jennifer Lopez has courted controversy for performing in Turkmenistan and singing a song wishing the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, on the occasion of his 56th birthday on Saturday, according to reports.
Lopez was performing in Turkmenistan, a country Human Rights Watch describes as "among the most repressive in the world," due to its poor human rights record, as part of a corporate gig arranged by China National Petroleum Corp, or CNPC.
Although it was not a political affair, Berdymukhammedov was in attendance, and the singer was requested by the company's organizers to wish the president on the occasion of his birthday. After performing many of her hit numbers, Agence France-Presse reported that Lopez appeared on stage dressed in a traditional Turkmen costume to sing "Happy birthday, Mr President."
Following backlash for the act, Lopez’s publicist released a statement to Associated Press stating that the singer would not have performed if she had been aware of human rights violations in the country.
"Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," Lopez’s publicist said.
Human Rights Watch said in a report, in April, that an unknown number of people languish in the country’s prisons, which are not open to outside scrutiny, on “what appear to be politically motivated charges.”
Last month, Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for United Nations Human Rights, said that though the country has made progress in issues related to human rights, "a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards," according to AP.