Police in Kyrgyzstan have detained dozens of protesters, mostly women, at a rally to mark International Women’s Day after masked men attacked them and tore up their placards.
Dozens of women were placed in police vehicles in the centre of the capital, Bishkek, where women’s groups had begun to rally against gender-based violence on Sunday, according to an AFP news agency correspondent.
The detentions of the women came after they were attacked by the masked men, some of whom wore traditional Kyrgyz white felt hats. The attackers tore up the protesters’ posters, popped balloons with toy pistols and threw eggs at the women before fleeing the scene.
Erlan Atantayev, deputy head of the Sverdlovsky police department where the women were taken, told AFP that the protesters had been detained for their safety and because police had not been warned about the rally.
“Clashes began between the demonstrators and men wearing the face masks,” said Atantayev. “We detained (the women) for violation of public order.”
Atantayey told AFP police were carrying out “explanatory work” with the detained protesters. He added that some of the demonstrators could face fines for resisting police.
Police also detained three male assailants but did not chase after those who ran away, AFP reported.
Journalist Nurjamal Djanibekova said one of the attackers broke her telephone to prevent her from filming the attack.
Djanibekova said 70 people were being held in the Sverdlovsky police station.
A court in Kyrgyzstan this week banned rallies in the centre of Bishkek until July 1 in response to a request by the city administration.
But the city authorities later withdrew the request and the court lifted the ban.
Atantayev told AFP that he was unaware of the lifting of the ban, which the city administration had initially said was necessary to preserve public order and counter the threat of the new coronavirus.
Kyrgyzstan has so far had no confirmed cases of the virus that has killed 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 95 nations and territories.
A March 8 demonstration last year angered conservative groups, who have grown in strength in recent years and complain the rallies promote gay rights.
Activists say women’s rights are deteriorating amid a resurgence of right-wing ideology.
Last December, a “Feminnale” exhibition at Kyrgyzstan’s National Art Museum that centred on women’s economic freedom generated a huge backlash, including threats of violence against all participants. The government chose to censor a number of the artworks that were deemed too provocative, hanging signs reading “censored” in their place.
The museum director was forced to resign following threats to her and her staff.