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Kanye West Courts Human Rights Criticism With Kazakhstan Performance

He played a private gig for a foreign leader who's been accused of torture and other abuses

Kanye West is at risk of yet another public-relations mess. Though the Yeezus MC more often runs into criticism for relatively small matters like airport etiquette or how he treats the paparazzi, this time ‘Ye could find himself caught up in a human rights debate. As the New York Times reports, West performed at the wedding reception for the grandson of Kazakhstan’s controversial president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has long been accused of corruption and rigging elections.

According to London’s Independent, Human Rights Watch has criticized Kazakhstan for its “serious and deteriorating human rights situation.” Complaints include “credible allegations of torture, the imprisonment of government critics, tight controls over the media and freedom of expression and association, limits in religious freedom, and continuing violation of workers’ rights.” In other words, this goes way bigger than Borat.

TMZ reports, citing unnamed Central Asian sources, that West received roughly $3 million to play a live set at the Royal Tulip hotel in the city of Almaty on Saturday (August 31). He reportedly dug out his biggest hits for the private gig, which celebrated the wedding of Nazarbayev’s grandson, Aisultan Nazarbayev, and Alima Boranbayeva, the daughter of a top-level executive at an energy firm in Kazakhstan. Witnesses posted photos of Yeezy evidently on the scene, catching the 36-year-old as he stepped out of a black Mercedes onto a red carpet. Attendees also shot what appears to be video footage of Kanye’s performance — watch a snippet of him performing Graduation’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” above.

Several other performers reportedly took the stage, including Turkish singer Mustafa Sandal and Ukrainian pop star Elka, according to London’s Guardian. News service UPI reported that Beyoncé was also present, but that has been disputed by other sources. For what it’s worth, SPIN spotted Mrs. Carter in Philadelphia on Saturday, performing at Jay Z’s Made in America festival.

West isn’t the first musician to get involved with Nazarbayev. Back in 2011, Sting was scheduled to perform a concert for the president of Kazakhstan, but the former Police leader canceled, citing the alleged mistreatment of the nation’s oil workers. That same year, severe police action against striking oil workers left more than a dozen people dead.

More recently, Jennifer Lopez came under fire after she performed at the June 2013 birthday concert for the president of Turkmenistan, who has “ruled [that] country with an iron fist since 2006,” according to the Human Rights Foundation. The American Idol judge later issued an apology, explaining that she would not have attended “had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind.”

Regarding Kanye’s Labor Day weekend snafu, the Times reports that Kanye’s publicist in NYC did not return requests for comment as of Monday (September 2).