IWPR – Institute for War and Peace Reporting (Autor)
With no legal provision for self-defence as a mitigating factor, women who kill their relatives are almost always found guilty.
Asel (not her real name) was asleep at home when she woke to find a male relative lying on top of her while trying to undress her. Struggling to free herself from her assailant, Asel managed to grab a kitchen knife and stabbed him several times.
She called the police, but by the time they reached her the man had died from blood loss. Police officers arrested her.
Although a forensic examination found injuries on Asel’s body, the public prosecutor’s office presented her actions as murder, a charge later changed to homicide with excessive self-defence. She was found guilty and received the maximum penalty of five years in prison.
There is no legal provision in Kyrgyzstan for self-defence as a mitigating factor in homicide cases. This means that women charged with killing relatives or spouses who abuse or attack them are often convicted of premeditated murder.
Although no official statistics are available, a 2014 study by Penal Reform International (PRI) found that both Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan had high convictions rates for women charged with homicide or involuntary manslaughter.
Azamat Shambilov, PRI regional director in Central Asia, said that although the sample size of their survey had been small, it became clear that domestic violence played a significant role.
“During the survey, women told us they had to commit homicide because they feared for the lives of other family members – old parents or children,” he said. “Almost all the respondents confessed that they had long suffered violence, bullying and abuse from their partners. They should not be deemed as murderers, but as victims. However, the situation is that women are brought to trial and are almost always found guilty.”
Activists argue that domestic abuse should be taken into consideration as an extenuating circumstance in such cases.
For instance, in September 2018, a 40-year-old woman known only as Aida jumped from a fourth floor window of a house in Osh holding her child in her arms. Both were injured but survived. Immediately after Aida was discharged from hospital, she was sent to pre-trial detention and charged with the attempted homicide of a child.
During questioning, the woman said that she acted after her spouse kicked her and the child out of the house. She was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison and her child sent to an orphanage.
According to Osh-based human rights activist Mukhayo Abduraupova, the court failed to take into account both the woman’s psychological state and the numerous injuries found on her body indicating she had herself been the victim of violence.
Abduraupova said that friends of Aida had reported that she had suffered abuse at the hands of her husband for several years and despite numerous appeals to the police no action had been taken.
In general, Abduraupova continued, Kyrgyzstan had very lax laws regarding domestic abuse, a problem compounded by social stigma.
“The victim has to write a statement that she agrees to go against the father of her children, which is an additional pressure and stress. Some victims feel their parents are indifferent. They make it clear that if they leave their husband, they must not come back to the parents’ house, it’s shameful,” she concluded.
The situation is similar across Central Asia. In 2017, for instance, Kazakhstan followed Russia’s example and decriminalised domestic violence.
Yohanna Akbergenova, a representative of the movement against sexual violence “#НеМолчиKZ” (Don’t be silent) said that the situation of women had deteriorated as a result.
“The decriminalisation of domestic violence has made women vulnerable not only to husbands and abusive lovers, but to the law because domestic violence is no longer a crime… the victims of violence have to escape, often with children, to crisis centres or shelters and live there for years,” she said.
The new version of Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code does include a clause on excessive self-defence. However, according to Zalina Abdulkhakova, a lawyer from the Advocacy Centre for Human Rights, there are no clear criteria to differentiate between self-defence and intended bodily harm.
“As far as we know, there is no separate law on self-defence in Kyrgyzstan. So the victims cannot prove the fact of self-defence,” she said.
“We’ve had many such cases, but we’ve only once managed to prove the fact of violence. It was four years ago. A man attempted to rape a girl. When [his partner] saw it, she attacked… and killed him. We managed to reduce her jail term; the woman had to face 15 years in prison, but she was sentenced to four years only and was released on parole.”
Abdulkhakova said that the public needed to be made aware of the injustice of the current legislative gap.
She said, “We want to implement a project which will clearly demonstrate how unfair the justice system is towards female victims who get into trouble with the law after many years of abuse.”
Erkina Asanbaeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek.