Kanye West headlined a very intimate gig Saturday night: playing the wedding singer at a reception for the grandson of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Dude reportedly picked up $3 million or so for the night, TMZ said, and according to the New York Times, young guests snapped photos with the rapper in the background and uploaded video of the performance. All that after a red-carpet arrival.
Business as usual, right? Not so fast.
Kazakhstan has a bad reputation when it comes to human rights, including freedom of speech, one of West's favorite things. And Nazarbayev has been in charge for 23 years now, since before the fall of the Soviet Union, which counted the country as a member.
"Kazakhstan is a human rights wasteland," Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, said Tuesday in a statement. "The regime crushes freedom of speech and association; someone like Kanye, who makes a living expressing his views, would find himself in a prison under Nazarbayev’s rule. This particular dictator’s ruthless behavior includes kidnapping the families of dissidents to his rule and abusing judicial systems across the world in persecuting his opponents."
Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, said in the statement that the money West was paid "came from the loot stolen from the Kazakhstan treasury."
In 2011, Sting backed out of a concert in the Kazakh capital, Astana, after being advised by Amnesty International of conditions in the country, particularly those surrounding an oil workers strike, which according to HRF left 15 dead and more than 100 injured by national security forces.
"Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing," Sting said at the time, according to BBC News. "The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change."
More recently, Jennifer Lopez was thrust into the playing-for-dictators spotlight when she crooned "Happy Birthday" to the president of Turkmenistan during a concert put on by China National Petroleum Corp. for the entertainment of its executives there. She later apologized, saying she was unaware of human-rights issues in the country.