Jennifer Lopez Sings 'Happy Birthday' To Turkmenistan Dictator, Issues Public Apology For Human Rights Blunder [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 1, 2013 12:44 PM EDT

jennifer lopez
Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez wipes a tear before unveiling her star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California June 20, 2013. The pop star recently caught flack for performing in Turkmenistan, a repressive dictatorship in Central Asia. (Photo: Reuters)

Jennifer Lopez has become the latest celebrity to cozy up to a repressive dictator and get paid for it. Over the weekend, the 43-year-old pop star performed at an event in Turkmenistan, an authoritarian regime in Central Asia that shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and sang "Happy Birthday" to its leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

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According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan is "one of the world's most repressive countries." The organization, which monitors human rights abuses around the world, says that religious freedoms and the media in Turkmenistan are subject to "draconian restrictions," and that human rights activists are constantly threatened with government retaliation.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 56, has led Turkmenistan since 2006 and has retained unchallenged power ever since, despite the country proclaiming itself a secular democracy and a presidential republic.

J-Lo's rep told The Hollywood Reporter that the event was a private soiree organized by China National Petroleum Corporation, which does business with Turkmenistan. The rep said Jennifer Lopez's "Happy Birthday" moment was a last minute request. Other unnamed artists performed at the lavish event. Jennifer Lopez's performance fee is not known. 

Lopez's publicist said the pop singer's staff vetted the event, but saw no red flags. "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the publicist told AP.

"Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies," Thor Halvorssen, a human rights advocate who founded Oslo Freedom Forum, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "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."

Even Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who covers human rights abuses around the world, had some choice words for the pop star.

"So Jennifer Lopez flew to Turkmenistan, one of the world's most repressive countries, to sing Happy Birthday to the nation's dictator," Kristof wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday. "She needs someone to screen her invitations better, and she should donate the fee paid by Turkmenistan's thugs to a human rights or anti-torture organization."

Jennifer Lopez isn't the first celeb to slip up like this. The Washington Post reports that Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, Mariah Carey, Usher and 50 cent were all paid big bucks to perform at parties hosted by late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. They all announced later that they had no idea Gadhafi was internationally recognized as a repressive dictator, and that they would donate their handsome performance fees to charity.

Here's a video of J-Lo from Saturday night's performance in Turkmenistan.

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