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HRW urges to investigate attacks on marchers on March 8 in Bishkek

The authorities of Kyrgyzstan should investigate the circumstances around the mass arrests and the attacks on activists on March 8 in Bishkek and bring those responsible to justice. The International Human Rights Organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Kyrgyz police held about 70 activists, most of them women, for hours on March 8, 2020 without telling them the grounds for their detention or providing access to lawyers. The activists had themselves come under attack at the peaceful International Women’s Day march in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. At least three journalists were also detained.

A mob of men, many wearing medical masks or other face coverings, attacked the activists as they were beginning the march to call attention to the serious problem of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan. The masked men threw eggs at the marchers, dragged them to the ground, and destroyed their banners. When police arrived, the mob dispersed, but rather than seeking out the attackers, police forced the activists to board a bus and took them to Bishkek’s Sverdlovsk police station. Some reported physical abuse by the police.

«People should be protected, not penalized, when exercising their right to assemble and protest peacefully,» said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. «Instead, on a day meant to celebrate women’s rights, these activists were doubly punished — first by an angry mob and then by the police.»

As the human rights defenders stress, the march was an act of solidarity and protest against domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of violence against women and girls, which remain persistent problems in Kyrgyzstan despite measures such as a revamped domestic violence law. At least four women have been killed in domestic abuse incidents since the beginning of 2020.

«Women’s march participants were simply calling for action to stop women’s needless deaths from domestic violence,» Margolis said. «The authorities should detain and investigate the men who used force to stop this march, not the women who were calmly protesting.»