Jennifer Lopez sorry she gave concert for president of Turkmenistan
Superstar says she would not have sung to Turkmenistan's president if she had known about country's human rights record
US pop star Jennifer Lopez has apologised after singing Happy Birthday to the president of Turkmenistan during a show paid for by the China National Petroleum Corporation, saying she wouldn't have performed at all if she had known about the country's human rights abuses.
The singer and actress performed in the former Soviet bloc country on Saturday night. A statement released on Sunday by her publicist said the event was hosted by CNPC and wasn't a political event.
But the country's leader, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, was the guest of honour at the event marking his 56th birthday. Berdimuhamedov has been criticised for oppressive rule by human rights organisations. Human Rights Watch describes Turkmenistan as being "among the most repressive [countries] in the world".
After a United Nations visit last month, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said the country had made progress in the area of human rights, but "a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards".
Lopez's publicist says the event was vetted by Lopez's staff: "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended."
The birthday serenade was a last-minute request made by CNPC to Lopez before she took the stage, and she "graciously obliged", the statement said.
The show was held at the US$2 billion southern resort of Avaza with a select group of government officials, diplomats and executives in attendance.
With a shout of "Turkmenistan!", Lopez took to the stage to sing and dance her way through her biggest hits. At the end, she changed from a skimpy white dress into a long, traditional Turkmen outfit to sing Happy Birthday, Mr President to Berdimuhamedov. "It was our pleasure," Lopez said from the stage. "And we wish you the very happiest birthday."
A representative of CNPC, which in 2009 completed a pipeline to transport Turkmen natural gas to China, confirmed that the company had organised Lopez's trip.
Lopez's entourage appeared unaware they were heading to a country where the internet is tightly controlled.
"I wonder where all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!" tweeted her choreographer J. R. Taylor. The tweet was later deleted as reports of Lopez's performance began to spread.
Lopez is one of the highest-profile Western pop stars to play private concerts around the former Soviet Union in exchange for huge fees, though she is believed to be the first major star to visit and perform in Turkmenistan. .
Lopez has also performed at the wedding of an Uzbek businessman in Ukraine, reportedly for US$1 million, as well as for the Azeri oligarch Telman Ismailov, reportedly for US$1.4 million.
Before two performances in Russia last year, Lopez declined to comment on the human rights situation in the country with fans, saying in response to a question about the jailed punk band Pussy Riot: "I don't like to talk politics, to be quite honest."
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press