Jennifer Lopez Honors One of World’s Worst Dictators

Saturday, July 06, 2013
Jennifer Lopez in Turkmenistan (photo: Igor Sasin, AFP)

Entertainer Jennifer Lopez has come under fire for participating in a birthday celebration for the leader of Turkmenistan, considered by human rights groups to be one of the world’s worst dictators.


Lopez, who serenaded Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov with a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” appeared at the event that was hosted by the China National Petroleum Corporation, which is trying to improve its involvement with Turkmenistan’s natural gas industry, Turkmenistan being China’s largest foreign supplier of natural gas.


Six years ago, Lopez was honored by Amnesty International for the film, Bordertown, which sought to shed light on the unsolved rapes and murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.


Thor Halvorssen, president of The Human Rights Foundation, said in a statement published by The Hollywood Reporter: “Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies. 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.”


Speaking for Human Rights Watch, Rachel Denber said, “The problem isn't that she performed in Turkmenistan, it's that she was part of a propaganda fest for a president who presides over one of the most closed, repressive governments in the world.”


According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan “is virtually closed to independent scrutiny. Media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal. The authorities continue to use imprisonment as a tool for political retaliation and to restrict peoples’ right to travel freely.”


The U.S. State Department report on Turkmenistan states that “The three most important human rights problems were arbitrary arrest; torture; and disregard for civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. Other continuing human rights problems included citizens’ inability to change their government; interference in the practice of religion; denial of due process and fair trial; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on the free association of workers. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity.”


A spokesperson for Lopez said the actress and singer was not aware of Turkmenistan’s human rights record. Had she known, Lopez would not have appeared at the party.


Lopez is not the first celebrity to get caught honoring notorious dictators.


In 2011, Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme attended a birthday event for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who had been accused of torture and killings.

-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Jennifer Lopez Criticised for Turkmenistan Corporate Gig (BBC News)

Jennifer Lopez Turkmenistan Gig Shines Light on Chinese Oil Firm (by Brian Spegele and Lukas I. Alpert, Wall Street Journal)

Jennifer Lopez Apologizes for Serenade of Turkmenistan President (by Christie DZurilla, Los Angeles Times)

The Stars who Courted Global Controversy (BBC News)

Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme Celebrate Birthday of Chechen Warlord (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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