Hundreds of people rallied in front of Kyrgyzstan’s interior ministry on Thursday, decrying alleged police inaction over the murder of a woman abducted for marriage.
Aizada Kanatbekova, 27, was kidnapped on April 5.
Two days later, she was found strangled in a car in a rural area, together with her suspected murderer who had died from knife wounds, apparently self-inflicted.
His suspected accomplice has been detained.
Public anger has grown because police had failed to find the suspect despite the kidnapping having been caught on camera with the car model and the car’s number plates clearly visible.
Protesters are calling for senior interior ministry officials to quit.
Bride kidnapping remains widespread in the former Soviet republic despite official pledges to crack down on it.
The practice involves a potential groom forcibly taking a young woman or girl back to his home before pressuring her to agree to marriage by writing a letter of consent.
‘End the femicide’
About 500 people rallied in front of the ministry headquarters in the capital, Bishkek, on Thursday, shouting “Shame!”.
They called for the interior minister and city police chief to resign, with some holding banners bearing slogans such as “Who will answer for Aizada’s murder?”, “End the femicide” and “Who still thinks that murder is a tradition?”
Journalist Mahinur Niyazova, who tweeted a call to rally outside the building, told the AFP news agency that the murder showed police had other priorities 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, the deputy editor of 24.kg, a news website.
Prime Minister Ulugbek Maripov addressed the crowd, asking people to give police time to investigate the crime.
Several demonstrators shouted him down and called for his dismissal too, AFP reported.
President declares killing a ‘tragedy’
President Sadyr Japarov said in a statement the culprits would be punished, calling Kanatbekova’s death a “tragedy”.
He also condemned the practice of bride kidnapping, which the country outlawed in 2013 after authorities recognised it could lead to marital rape, domestic violence, and psychological trauma.
The practice, 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 it 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.
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.