Since Jennifer Lopez’s performance at Turkmen dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s birthday celebration on June 29, 2013, the media has been saturated with stories about Turkmenistan and “J.Lo.” Lopez publicist Mark Young responded to the media outrage, declaring “had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.”
“What those covering this story have missed is that J.Lo and her management have misled her fans and the public,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “J.Lo has repeatedly mingled with and entertained some of the world’s worst thugs and their cronies. The ‘Jenny-from-the-block-who-doesn't-Google’ clarification may be credible in one instance, but it beggars belief in light of a pattern of repeated behavior. This is not about ignorance, it’s about greed.”
• In July 2011, Lopez was paid $1 million by corrupt Uzbek industrialist Azam Aslanov to perform at the wedding of his son. One of the guests at the wedding was Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. Prior to this, Lopez was paid $1.4 million to perform at the birthday celebration in Moscow of a businessman engaged in widely reported acts of corruption: Russian oligarch Telman Ismailov.
• In September 2012, Lopez was booked by the dictorship of Azerbaijan to perform at a FIFA soccer tournament. The fee was reportedly $2.5 million. While in the capital city of Baku, Lopez’s representatives met with the dictator’s wife and began negotiating a contract to put together a music festival in Azerbaijan in partnership with Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency. The event was initially planned for September 2013 but has been rescheduled to 2014.
• In October 2012, Lopez traveled to Belarus, the only dictatorship in Europe, where she performed a leg of her world tour. Details of her stay in Minsk and her engagements are not public record, and the Lopez team has ignored requests for comment on the matter.
• In November 2012, Lopez traveled to Russia, where she was scheduled to sing happy birthday to Alexander Yolkin, a Russian bureaucrat accused of corruption. Yolkin was arrested the day before Lopez’s performance at his birthday party. Russian media claim that the reported $2 million paid to Lopez was the product of kickbacks and bribery schemes. It is not known if Lopez returned the fee.
• The claim that Lopez’s performance in Turkmenistan for the dictator and his family was a “last minute request,” and that the event “was not a government sponsored event or political in nature," is contradicted by both coverage of the event in Turkmenistan itself and the fact that the event was financed by the Chinese dictatorship. The China National Petroleum Corporation, an oil company owned by the Chinese regime, underwrote the event for a reported $2.5 million fee and is itself under scrutiny for human rights violations in Burma.
“The collective outrage that now follows Lopez’s behavior is a categorical signal that it is not right to enjoy a free society, and then seek to profit from those who have acquired their riches from cronyism and the wholesale negation of human rights,” said Halvorssen. “Performers are frequently blinded by greed and they willfully sidestep reality and become part of the public relations machinery of the world’s worst people. They should be disqualified from having any moral standing to opine about matters involving human rights or business ethics.”
HRF’s position is that Lopez has the right to perform for whomever and wherever she is contracted, but she can hardly claim ignorance of the nature and impact of her actions as she cozies up to dictators and their enablers.
“The J.Lo story is a case study in how human rights defenders can successfully marshal the notoriety of a celebrity to engage in public exposure of dictatorship and corruption,” said Halvorssen. “This is also a study in how engaging in classic denials and failing to address matters head-on simply leads to more scrutiny.”
HRF was the first organization to denounce Jennifer Lopez’s concert in Turkmenistan last month and Hilary Swank’s visit to Chechnya in 2011. HRF also denounced a concert produced in 2012 by one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships, Equatorial Guinea, which featured Spanish singing legend Julio Iglesias.
Calls for Lopez to donate the funds she received to charities engaged in human rights work in Turkmenistan have been met with silence.
HRF is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that protects and promotes human rights globally, with an expertise in the Americas. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the right to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence.
Contact: Jamie Hancock - Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org