Hundreds protest in Kyrgyzstan after bride kidnap and murder

People hold pictures as they attend a rally for women's rights protection in Bishkek, on April 8, 2021.
People hold pictures as they attend a rally for women's rights protection in Bishkek, on April 8, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BISHKEK (AFP) - Hundreds of people rallied in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on Thursday (April 8) calling for police chiefs to be sacked after a young woman abducted for marriage was found dead in a country where bride kidnapping is systemic.

Police said on Wednesday the body of 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova had been found outside Bishkek two days after security camera footage widely shared on social networks showed her being bundled into a car by three men.

Kanatbekova's kidnapper and assumed murderer was also found dead, police said, adding that he had likely committed suicide.

One of the other kidnappers was detained by police, state television reported on Thursday.

Bride kidnapping, known locally as Ala Kachuu, has roots in the Central Asian country's nomadic past and persisted into the Soviet era, albeit on a smaller scale.

But the practice became chronic after the country gained independence in 1991, with convictions extremely rare and survivors reluctant to file complaints due to threats of violence and cultural stigma.

Journalist Mahinur Niyazova, who tweeted a call to rally outside the interior ministry headquarters, told AFP that the murder showed police had other priorities rather than defending women from violence.

"It is impossible to be quiet and observe the violence that our women, who lack any rights, must endure," said Niyazova, who is deputy editor of popular news website 24.kg.

'End the femicide'

The protesters called for the sacking of the interior minister and the city police chief and held banners bearing slogans such as "Who will answer for Aizada's murder?", "End the femicide" and "Who still thinks that murder is a tradition?"

The rally drew some 500 people and prompted Prime Minister Ulugbek Maripov to address the protesters.

He asked them to "have patience" and promised that everyone associated with the kidnapping would be punished, as several demonstrators shouted him down and called for his dismissal too.

President Sadyr Japarov on Facebook described Kanatbekova's death as "a tragedy and pain not only for her family, but also for our entire state".

He said the incident should be "the last bride kidnapping in history".

The last time a bride kidnapping death brought protesters onto the streets in Kyrgyzstan was in 2018, when 20-year-old medical student Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy was killed in a police station where officers had held her with her kidnapper as she prepared to file a statement against him.

According to the UN Women's office in Bishkek, one in five marriages in the impoverished republic of 6.5 million are concluded after a bride kidnapping incident.