Ostensibly fooled by the celebrity appearance rocks that she got, Jennifer Lopez has been forced to defend performing for Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov from the former Soviet bloc—specifically, the bloc where they torture dissidents and homosexuality is illegal. The dictator of Turkmenistan, known for his backward ways, celebrated appropriately with the world’s biggest pop star of 1999, who feted Berdymukhamedov with a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at the $2 billion Caspian Sea resort reserved just for the occasion.
Earlier in the day, Lopez’s crew took to Twitter to share the not-at-all-politically-repressed fun they were having there, with choreographer J.R. Taylor wondering aloud “where all Turkmenistan followers are? Hit me up!” That tweet has since been removed, likely after Taylor was informed that Turkmenistan’s censorship-heavy regime bans sites like Facebook and Twitter, and therefore its citizens are cruelly denied of the ability to hit up J. Lo’s choreographer, in addition to other basic human rights.
That wasn’t the only fun Turkmenistan fact Lopez’s crew learned on this trip, after a subsequent outcry from the Human Rights Foundation that reminded Team Lopez that the Berdymukhamedov dictatorship is ranked as one of “the worst of the worst” in terms of oppression, and “one of world’s most totalitarian regimes.” That public shaming prompted Lopez’s representatives to say they simply had no idea that being paid so much to appear briefly at a lavish party in a far-off country could have possibly had anything to do with dirty political money: In a statement, Lopez’s team pointed out that the singer performed at the behest of the China National Petroleum Corporation, China’s state-run oil and gas company, only agreeing to come and party with an environmentally disastrous polluter who courts business with the corrupt leaders of subjugated nations, not necessarily those leaders themselves.
Indeed, Lopez’s reps have said her wishing Berdymukhamedov a happy birthday was a “last-minute request” that she “graciously obliged,” insisting that neither she nor anyone in her camp were aware of Turkmenistan’s human rights issues, else she wouldn’t have performed at all. As that excuse has already failed—given the fact that Jennifer Lopez and her management team live in a nation where such information isn’t blocked by the government—Lopez’s manager Benny Medina has since elaborated by insisting that “there was no reason to do heavy research into the President's record, since no one even knew he would be at the concert.” Medina furthermore says that, once he learned Berdymukhamedov was in the audience, it was Medina and the emcee who started “goading” Lopez into singing the song—a sequence of events he described as an “ambush” on Lopez, in the worst example of someone being forced to do something against their will in Turkmenistan that Lopez’s team has heard about.
Medina also tells TMZ that he “he did some research and found the former [president, Saparmurat Niyazov] is the one with a record of human rights abuses, and Berdymukhamedov actually seems ok.” Indeed, while Berdymukhamedov has maintained Niyazov’s policies regarding treating all political opposition as treason punishable by life imprisonment or death, maintaining strict surveillance of all its citizens, harassing journalists, persecuting all ethnic minorities, and generally imposing government control over all aspects of his subjects’ daily life, he did lift Niyazov’s ban on circuses. So yeah, he seems pretty okay.
As of now, Lopez hasn’t indicated whether she plans to return her appearance fee, estimated to be somewhere “north of $1 million,” because learning about this controversy would similarly require reading things on the Internet.