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Self-Defence or Prison: How Victims of Violence in Kazakhstan Go to Jail?

According to experts, there is a trend in Kazakhstan when courts hand out softer punishments to abusers, while cases of the victims of violence who injured the abuser while self-defending are registered as murder by default.


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In 2018, 115 thousand 285 cases of domestic violence against women were registered in Kazakhstan. Almost every sixth woman aged 18-75 years old has experienced physical or sexual abuse by a partner during their lifetime, according to the first national study of domestic violence.

Sometimes victims of violence are not ready to wait until trial – it often happens that women trying to self-defend become criminals themselves.

Almat Mukhamedzhanov. Photo: voxpopuli.kz

According to the director of Nemolchideti.kz public foundation, Almat Mukhamedzhanov, who has long defended the interests of victims of violence, approximately 80 per cent of inmates in the women’s prison in Shymkent are victims of violence. They received prison sentences for killing or intentional serious injuries.

“Reasonable punishment for beating is difficult to incriminate, while self-defence is difficult to prove. This is due to the fact that the investigating bodies, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure, must investigate the crime scene. There are about 16 points they need to follow. They do not conduct full investigation, do not seize all the evidence. They come, take pictures and leave,” Mukhamedzhanov said.

He noted that in practice police investigators have to meet some statistical requirements – to solve a certain number of murders per month. And self-defence cases also fall into this category.

Once there is blood and a frying pan – that’s murder.

“In our reality, it turns out that it is more profitable for investigators to solve a grave crime such as “murder” than to investigate thoroughly and clear up domestic dramas. Once there is blood and a frying pan – that’s murder. We had a case when a senior lieutenant, an officer used to beat his wife, an elementary school teacher, so that she had five skull fractures. He received a year of judicial restraint, while she has a first disability category,” the lawyer said. 

What’s in law and in fact? 

In the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, the concept of self-defence is provided for in article 112 of the Criminal Code “Causing grievous bodily harm in case of excessive self-defence”. According to the press service of the Supreme Court in reply to CABAR.asia, during the proceedings in the criminal case, the court examines all materials as a whole and assesses all circumstances and evidence presented to find out what happened.

The selection of criminal practice in Kazakhstan regarding the application of article 112 reads that, for example, a girl will not be criminally liable if she is attacked suddenly in a little-known place at a night time by a rapist and she failed to assess the degree and nature of the risk objectively and deemed it was a real threat to her life. However:

According to paragraph 12 of the regulatory resolution of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the application of legislation on justifiable defence”, once the abuser has household and other items (a hammer, axe, kitchen knife, stones, sticks, bricks, etc.), the person who self-defends may be held criminally liable in case of excessive self-defence.

According to statistics of the Data Bank of Judicial Acts, which became effective, in 2018 article 112 was applied only four times, while in two cases the defendants were women. In 2019, there were only 3 cases, in two of which defendants were women.

In 2014, Penal Reform International (PRI) conducted a survey in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, “Women in prison – who are they?” The analysis showed that “both countries have high rate of guilty verdicts for homicide or involuntary manslaughter.”

According to the results of the survey, in Kazakhstan 12 per cent of women were convicted of murder or involuntary manslaughter of a male family member and 9 per cent of murder or involuntary manslaughter of another person.

On September 28, an authorised protest of Kazakhstan feminists was held in Almaty. about a hundred girls chanted in unison calling for observing women’s rights and increasing liability for violence. Photo: CABAR.asia

“We should have zero tolerance”

Almat Mukhamedzhanov noted that very often women who are driven to despair by constant beatings and violence get convicted.

We had a case when husband used to beat his wife before their children. During one of such conflicts, she was taken to a hospital. She was self-defending, pushing him off, and scratching him.

As she was hospitalised with head injuries, a local police officer came to her. She made an application against her husband, but he made a cross-application stating that she allegedly injured him. In court, the parties came to terms.

She left him, he didn’t give her the children, so we had to contact the Commission for Juvenile Affairs.

Some victims of violence might think about self-defending. But in practice, if he beats her and she goes to the police, he will spend 15 days in a cell. If she hits him with a frying pan or a rolling pin, she will be sentenced to longer term. The investigation officers don’t carry out psychological assessment to find out why a woman did so.

According to the lawyer of the Bar Association of Nur-Sultan, Asel Tokaeva, cases of the victims of violence who injured the abuser while self-defending are registered as murder by default.

Asel Tokaeva. Photo: advocacy.kz

According to the lawyer of the Bar Association of Nur-Sultan, Asel Tokaeva, cases of the victims of violence who injured the abuser while self-defending are registered as murder by default.

“To prove it was self-defence, evidence must be collected. Good assessment should be made to prove that a woman was regularly under pressure, psychologically and physically abused, and she was self-defending or acting in the heat of passion. We need to prove she didn’t want to kill, it was by accident,” Tokaeva said.

The judge of district court No. 2 of Astana, Gulzhakhan Ubasheva, in her article about excessive self-defence noted that only 10 per cent of such cases end up with dismissal of a case or acquittal.

“According to the criminal law, the defender that fights back the attacker should think in advance of whether they can do significant damage to the attacker. It turns out that defending their own life, a person can be brought to trial as the accused. The concept of excessive self-defence is not defined properly. It gives way to unlawful classification of a crime and rendering wrong decisions,” Ubasheva said.

Women have nowhere to go. They just keep silent and put up with the situation.

According to experts, there is a trend in Kazakhstan when courts hand out softer punishments to abusers and rapists, and don’t take victim’s side. Asel Tokaeva said punishment for domestic violence should be toughened in order to prevent prosecution of women for murders as a result of self-defence.

“There are frequent cases when husbands beat their wives, pour gasoline over them, and then women go to police and withdraw their applications after a while. Women forgive rapists, abusers. If a man is sober, he’s good, when he drinks, he becomes an abuser. Women have nowhere to go. They just keep silent and put up with the situation. As a result, men beat them or kill. Or, a woman can kill accidentally,” the lawyer said.

According to her, women have no support even among other women as traditions and rules of morality make them suffer violence for the sake of their families and children. Finally, there are no legal methods of struggle but drastic measures. Therefore, Tokaeva is confident that the state must have zero tolerance to domestic violence.

“Whenever a woman calls the police and reports violence, the police should react properly. They should arrest the abuser and they should not allow her to withdraw her application to make the abuser fear the consequences. Impunity leads to systemic violence. We should register all domestic abusers,” Tokaeva said.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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