This week, activists in Kyrgyzstan staged rallies in Bishkek and Osh in protest of violence against women. A disturbing case — the repeated rape over a six-month period of a 13-year-old girl by four men, two of whom are police officers, in Bishkek — recently came to the attention of media and has sparked outrage in the country. It is far from the only crime against women and girls in Kyrgyzstan.
According to Kyrgyz media outlet Kloop, 20 people attended a rally in Osh near the police department building on July 8; around 200 attended rally outside the Sverdlovsk District Court in Bishkek the same day. In both cities, protesters held signs urging the authorities to take violence against women and girls seriously. Protesters called for the resignation of Internal Affairs Minister Ulan Niyazbekov. Earlier in the week, protesters gathered outside the Internal Affairs Ministry demanding Niyazbekov resign.
The court, meanwhile, again rescheduled hearings in the case of the rape of the 13-year-old, reportedly at the request of the injured party. According to RFE/RL it is the fourth postponement of the trial: the first meeting scheduled for June 23 did not take place because the prosecutor was absent (reportedly to attend a funeral); a June 29 meeting did not occur because of the the accused was not present, due to health reasons; and a July 5 hearing was adjured because the judge reportedly had a different meeting.
The victim’s family has requested and been granted protection, but have also complained about police conduct, including interrogating the girl without her parents present, and reported receiving threats. The involvement of police as accused perpetrators heightens the difficulty of achieving justice.
A group of crisis centers and human rights organizations in Kyrgyzstan issued a strident appeal to President Sadyr Japarov to address the plight of women and girls in Kyrgyzstan. In their appeal the organizations wrote that women spend years “knocking on the threshold” of courts while their rapists walk freely. The appeal also stated that “in 2021, 75% of cases of rape, 94% of cases of kidnapping for marriage, 90% of cases of domestic violence offenses were terminated.” They called violence against women a “social disease” in need of urgent attention.
In December 2020, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights released a report assessing the barriers women face in accessing justice, getting fair trials, and peacefully assembling, sparked by the police disruption of that year’s International Women’s Day March in March 2020. The case of Kaliya Arabekova, highlighted in the report, illustrated the ways in which “Women in Kyrgyzstan who survive gender-based violence face barriers to accessing justice and are often denied justice entirely.” Often, women do not file complaints for fear of further harassment by the perpetrators or police, and when they do file complaints they are often pressured by police and courts, face gender stereotyping, and revictimization, in addition to delayed or denied justice.
In a separate case, Zhanaly Batyrbekov, a judge in Bishkek’s Sverdlovsk District Court, resigned after criticism from the chairman of the Supreme Court over Batyrbekov’s decision to release from custody two men accused of raping a 16-year-old.
Over the year there have been waves of shock over specific instances of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan, including the 2018 kidnapping and murder of Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy, the 2020 kidnapping and murder of Aizada Kanatbekova, and a 2020 viral video of a man abusing his wife. As in other countries, rape and violence against women are routine news items. With each especially shocking episode one hopes that pressure would build for authorities (in Kyrgyzstan as elsewhere) to take seriously the violence occurring against women and girls as well as the structural barriers impeding women from seeking justice. But when the perpetrators of violence are themselves authorities figures, the pursuit of justice is all the more complicated.