After years of monitoring violence against women in Kyrgyzstan, and seeing little done to punish abusers, we thought this time might finally be different.
It looked like an open and shut case. The horrific abuse was captured on video, at the man’s insistence. There was indisputable evidence of his crime and he did not deny abusing his wife. Police apprehended him – though only after the video’s circulation prompted public outcry, not when his wife first reported the abuse two days prior. They ultimately charged him with “cruel treatment,” which is punishable by a prison sentence.
But yesterday, in Suzak, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan, after a trial lasting two days, the man walked free.
The court convicted him and ordered him to serve two year’s probation, a non-custodial sentence which requires him to regularly check in with the police. Today’s ruling shows that in Kyrgyzstan, a man who slaps his wife, forces her to stand weighed down by tires and bricks, and repeatedly douses her with water – all on video – can count on doing so with little fear of consequences.
Domestic violence is pervasive in Kyrgyzstan, and women and girls face multiple barriers when they try to seek help or access justice. Kyrgyzstan has taken important steps in recent years to begin to tackle domestic violence, including adopting a strengthened domestic violence law in 2017 and other legislative amendments that provide better protections for victims. But “domestic violence” remains a misdemeanor rather than a criminal offense, meaning it carries lesser penalties. Even with irrefutable video evidence of brutality, police in this case originally detained the man on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and only later upgraded the charges to “cruel treatment.”
Unless the law enforcement and justice systems in Kyrgyzstan take domestic violence complaints seriously, so that domestic abusers are brought to court and held accountable to the full extent of the law, women and girls will continue to be humiliated, beaten, forcefully abducted for marriage, and even killed – and their abusers will get away with it.
There was significant outrage in Kyrgyzstan when the video of this man hurting his wife surfaced. There should be no less outrage about Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary failing to hold him fully accountable.