A video depicting horrific domestic abuse, circulating recently on social media in Kyrgyzstan, shows a man slapping his wife and pouring water over her head. The woman’s hands are tied behind her back, and tires, weighted down with stones, hang over her shoulders. The man in the video tells the person recording to keep filming, saying he wants to teach his wife a lesson.
The case prompted immediate nationwide outrage. Domestic violence is nothing new in Kyrgyzstan, but rarely has it been captured so damningly on video.
Although the woman filed a complaint about the violence with police on June 11, police began investigating in earnest only after the video emerged on June 13. Such deliberate acts of cruelty and violence constitute a grave assault causing bodily harm and should attract serious criminal charges – if the victim was anyone other than his “wife.” However, when police detained the man that day, it was on the misdemeanor charges of “domestic violence.” The charges were later upgraded to “cruel treatment” in Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code, which could lead to a jail sentence, and the man was placed in pretrial detention for 15 days.
The police told the media the woman wants to withdraw her complaint, which is all too common in Kyrgyzstan due to stigma, pressure on women to maintain the family unit and reconcile with abusers, and family members, police, and judges dissuading them from filing or pursuing complaints. Human Rights Watch has documented barriers keeping survivors from getting help and justice. Kyrgyzstan has strengthened some laws, but the charge of “domestic violence” is still a misdemeanor, does not carry jail time, and far too often leads to impunity for abusers.
At a meeting on June 14 of the National Council for Women and Gender Development, a government advisory body, Vice Prime Minister Aida Ismailova suggested Kyrgyzstan should strengthen access to justice and assistance for domestic violence survivors. Ismailova noted there had been a 65 percent rise in domestic violence cases in the first quarter of 2020, including an increase during Covid-19-related lockdown measures.
It is essential for this woman – and women and girls across Kyrgyzstan – that authorities pursue meaningful accountability for perpetrators and ensure all survivors have access to medical, mental health, and legal assistance. They should also prosecute domestic violence under the Criminal Code as often as possible to ensure penalties in line with the violence committed.
Domestic violence shouldn’t have to be caught on film to deserve the government’s attention and resources.