On April 5, several men abducted 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova in broad daylight in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. One of them had allegedly been stalking her for months. Two days later, a farmer found Kanatbekova’s body in a car outside Bishkek. Police confirmed she was strangled to death. They said the body of one of her abductors was also in the car, displaying stab wounds that were self-inflicted.
I can’t stop thinking how it could have been me or any young Kyrgyz woman walking down the street that morning.
Kidnapping women for marriage is a crime in Kyrgyzstan, but men abduct women regularly and with impunity. Kanatbekova’s mother said police had laughed off her plea for help after the abduction and told her she’d soon be dancing at her daughter’s wedding. It’s a stark example of the disregard police exhibit when it comes to reports of bride kidnapping.
Their inaction is particularly shocking in Kanatbekova’s case because a witness alerted police immediately after the abduction. Street cameras installed as part of Bishkek’s “Safe City” project captured the license plates of both cars.
At an April 8 press conference, the Bishkek police chief insisted police searched for Kanatbekova nonstop, but her family and friends told the media that local police offices outside Bishkek were not aware of the search.
The case is similar to that of Burulai Turdaly kyzy, a young woman who was murdered by her two-time kidnapper in May 2018, after officers left them alone together in a room at the police station. There is a prevailing belief in Kyrgyz society that bride kidnapping, forced marriages, and other forms of domestic violence are a family affair and outsiders, even police, should not meddle, even though they are criminal offenses.
People in Bishkek and Osh, shocked and angry at yet another woman’s murder, protested outside police headquarters in each city. Several members of parliament have also called for tougher punishment for bride kidnapping.
But tougher punishment won’t help if law enforcement inaction persists. Kyrgyz officials should treat abduction of women for marriage for what it is – a crime. They should enforce existing laws and hold perpetrators accountable. They should also conduct an internal investigation into the flawed response to the abduction that ultimately led to Kanatbekova’s murder and punish the officers responsible. Otherwise, women and girls, like Burulai and Aizada, will continue to die, as police laugh on.
This text has been modified to correct the spelling of Aizada Kanatbekova’s name.