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8 Dictators and the Celebrities Who Befriend Them

Apparently, if the price is right, celebrities will do just about anything, including performing for or willingly befriending brutal dictators without so much as a quick Wikipedia search. Most recently, Jennifer Lopez was criticized for this. Turns out, it's a lot more common than you would think. Here are a few notable celebrity-dictator encounters:

2. Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un

One of the most bizarre photos of 2013 was taken of former NBA player Dennis Rodman and North Korea’s recently appointed, baby-faced dictator Kim Jong-Un. Rodman later tweeted, ”I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him ‘Kim,’ to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.”

Kenneth Bae, an American citizen and Christian missionary, is currently being detained in North Korea and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a “special prison” after being found guilty of attempting to overthrow the North Korean government after crossing into the country to distribute food to orphans. Bae is also accused of distributing bibles. (Christianity is currently banned in North Korea.)

According to Human Rights Watch:

Kim Jong-Un’s succession as North Korea’s supreme leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, has had no positive impact on the country’s dire human rights record. More than 200,000 North Koreans, including children, are imprisoned in camps where many perish from forced labor, inadequate food, and abuse by guards. Arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, and torture are pervasive problems. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Government policies have continually subjected North Koreans to food shortages and famine.

Rodman announced plans to return to North Korea in August to secure Bae’s release. And who knows? It might work.

3. Sting and Gulnara Karimova

Turkmenistan’s neighbor, Uzbekistan, isn’t free of human rights abuses, either. That didn’t stop Sting from performing for the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov, at an event she was hosting called “Art Week Style.uz” in 2009.

The 40-year-old Gulnara Karimova is a Harvard-alum, businesswoman, politician, musician, and fashion and jewelry designer. She serves as Uzbekistan’s diplomat to Spain and the United Nations. In 2011, she was cut out of New York’s prestigious Fashion Week after Human Rights Watch contacted the event’s manager and various sponsors.

[Karimova's] father’s government forces up to two million Uzbek children to leave school for two months each year to pick cotton – a fabric woven throughout Karimova’s designs.

WikiLeaks revealed in 2010 that:

Most Uzbeks see Karimova as a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way… She remains the single most hated person in the country.

The 75-year-old Islam Karimov has been serving as Uzbekistan’s president since 1989. His regime has been accused of many human rights violations and a former British ambassador even accused Karimov of boiling alive his opponents.

Despite Sting’s background as an environmental activist and member of Amnesty International, the musician defended his decision by stating, “I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that.”

4. Various celebrities and Hugo Chavez

Since 2007, Sean Penn had a close friendship with the former Venezuelan dictator, who passed away earlier in March. Penn attended a candlelight vigil for Chavez in Bolivia. In a statement, Penn said, “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.”

At one point, Penn had supposedly been considered to be Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States. Other celebrities who have sung Chavez’s praises include Danny Glover, Kevin Spacey, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Michael Moore, and Oliver Stone.

During his reign, Chavez had been accused of several human rights abuses. Sean Penn himself was physically abusive towards ex-wife Madonna and once hit her in the head with a baseball bat in 1987. The following year, Penn broke into Madonna’s house, tied her to a chair, threatened to shave her head, and went on to physically and sexually abuse her for nine hours. (Now we know why these two were friends.)

5. Various celebrities and Ramzan Kadyrov

Hilary Swank came under fire in 2011 when it was revealed that she had attended a birthday celebration for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. Afterward, Swank apologized profusely and claimed she had no knowledge of the Chechen dictator’s reputation.

Sarah Wasserman of the Human Rights Foundation countered this by stating that HRF had contacted Swank through her management 10 days before Swank was to attend the party. Wasserman added, “We offered to brief her, but her manager cut us short and responded that Hilary had no plans to attend. Her claim of ignorance is laughable. Worse, the video of her birthday wishes shows her boasting about her knowledge of Chechnya and how she ‘reads’ and ‘does her research.’”

Meanwhile, Van Damme, who received $1 million for his appearance, and Seal, who received $500,000, came under less scrutiny. During the party, Van Damme stood on stage and said, “I love you Mr. Kadyrov.” Neither apologized and neither indicated that they would return the money they received. In fact, Seal defended his decision by tweeting, “By going there, I played MUSIC for the Chechenyan [sic] people. I’m a MUSICIAN and would appreciate if you leave me out of your politics.”

Given Chechnya’s poor economic conditions, however, Seal’s tweet simply doesn’t ring true. The majority of the Chechen people would not have been able to attend the extravagant birthday celebration.

Meanwhile, Kevin Costner, Eva Mendes, and Shakira had been invited to attend, as well. All three declined.

Let’s not forget Mike Tyson, either. The former professional boxer and the Chechen dictator are reportedly good friends.


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