Jennifer Lopez was recently criticized for singing "Happy Birthday" to the leader of Turkmenistan, a former Soviet state human rights groups say is among the most reclusive and oppressive countries in the world.
The 44-year-old singer and actress would have not have even attended the Saturday celebration "had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind," her spokesperson told CNN.
"We wish you the very, very, happiest birthday," Lopez had said to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov before singing to him, the news outlet reported. He turned 56.
"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," Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen said in a statement.
Human rights group Amnestly Interational had honored Lopez in 2007 for her 2006 film "Bordertown," which she played an American reporter for investigates a series of murders and rapes near American-owned factories on the Mexican border.
"Lopez, whose management and back-up singers were enthusiastically tweeting their presence in Turkmenistan, are surely ignorant that social networks like Twitter and Facebook are banned, and the country's only ISP is controlled by the regime," the Human Rights Foundation statement added.
Many Twitter users list as Turkenistan their location. One of them, @halilkilic68 posted photos of Lopez at the event.
"Takin off to #Turkmenistan for a show... Incase u don't know where this is......lol," Lopez's boyfriend and dancer and choreography Casper Smart tweeted on June 27.
"Last-minute 'birthday greeting' request"
The singer's rep said that the China National Petroleum Corporation, the event's host, had "made a last-minute 'birthday greeting' request prior to Jennifer taking the stage," adding: "This was not stipulated in her contract, but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request."
Lopez's rep did not specify how much the singer was paid for her performance.
Turkmenistan, located in Central Asia, still has a long way to go in promoting human rights, with regard to issues such as discrimination, judicial independence and representation and participation of women in public life and crime enforcement services, the United Nations' Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said in May.
Other celebrities have been criticized for making public appearances or giving concerts in countries cited for human rights violations. In 2011, music artists such as Beyonce, Nelly Furtato and 50 Cent were criticized for performing for the family of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The performers later announced they were donating their pay to charity.
Also in 2011, actress Hilary Swank stirred controversy for attending a concert held in Chechnya -- also slammed over human rights violations, in honor of President Ramzan Kadyrov's 35th birthday. She later appeared on "The Tonight Show" and said she donated her fees to charity, adding: "I should know where I'm going. I actually didn't know Chechnya was separate from Russia."