Jennifer Lopez criticised for singing Happy Birthday to 'oppressive' leader

Jennifer Lopez pictured at a charity event in London last month. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Jennifer Lopez has come under fire for singing Happy Birthday to the president of Turkmenistan, whose "oppressive" regime has been criticised by human rights groups.

JLo serenaded Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow at an event on Saturday night, but her publicist said the singer would not have done if she had known there were human rights issues in the country.

The event was hosted by the China National Petroleum Corp. and was not political, her publicist said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The song was a last-minute request made by the corporation to Lopez before she took to the stage and she "graciously obliged", he continued.

Human Rights Watch describes Turkmenistan as "among the most repressive in the world" and Berdimuhamedow has been criticised for being oppressive.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said last month that Turkmenistan 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 added, "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended".

JLo is the latest celebrity to face scrutiny for performing in countries or for leaders with human rights violations.

Oscar-winner Hilary Swank profusely apologised in 2011 after attending a birthday party for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who had been accused of torture and killings.

Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and Usher were also paid perform at parties linked to the late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The performers later announced plans to donate their performance fees to charity and said they were unaware Gaddafi was connected to acts of terrorism.