Torture video triggers calls for action on domestic violence in Kyrgyzstan

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 19 June 2020 14:42 GMT

A woman sits on a bed in the regional center of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

Image Caption and Rights Information

Online clip showed man beating and abusing his wife, whose hands were tied behind her back

By Umberto Bacchi

MILAN, June 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A video of a man abusing his wife as she stands with her hands tied behind her back has provoked outrage in Kyrgyzstan, where women's rights campaigners called for urgent reform of domestic violence laws.

A 52-year-old man has been arrested and charged with torture since the footage, which shows a man slapping his wife and pouring buckets of water on her head, appeared online last week. Two tyres weighted down with bricks are tied around her neck.

Hillary Margolis, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said domestic violence was classed as a misdemeanour in Kyrgyzstan, meaning it does not carry jail time, only fines that can impact the entire family.

"It is indescribable how upset we all, as society, are," said Janna Araeva, spokeswoman for women's rights group Bishkek Feminist Initiatives.

"We are only hopeful that those people with high positions will FINALLY notice this problem in our society," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Lawmakers in the central Asian country debated legislation to toughen punishments for abusers and other legal changes on Thursday, days after the clip emerged.

The bill is designed to increase the effectiveness of state policy on combating domestic violence, said Ishak Pirmatov, the lawmaker who initiated the legislation.

But women's rights advocates said previous efforts to strengthen laws in the former Soviet republic of 6 million had brought little change.

They said the situation was deteriorating amid a resurgence of right-wing ideology, citing multiple cases of forced marriage and domestic violence.

Women often face pressure from family members and authorities to reconcile with their partners and withdraw any complaints they might have filed with police, said Margolis.

"There seems to still be this sense in society ... that women shouldn't talk about family problems, that it is kind of airing dirty laundry," she said.

Reports are sometimes not thoroughly investigated and women's shelters are short of places, she said.

The interior ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

On Monday, Bishkek Feminist Initiatives staged a small rally demanding government action that was reportedly broken up by police citing coronavirus restrictions.

Vice prime minister Aida Ismailova told an advisory body on women's issues on Sunday that authorities would work to strengthen access to justice and assistance for women who suffer domestic violence.

Cases of domestic violence in the first three months of 2020 were up 65% on the same period last year, she said, adding this could be attributed to Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Related stories:

Kyrgyzstan's kidnapped brides use fashion and flags to end marriage taboo

Rising violence against women in Latin America confirms fears of abuses in lockdowns

Italian centres for abused women lose state funding as lockdown fuels demand

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.