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Kazakh Family Breaks Rape Silence To Publicly Demand Justice

Gulbadar Musinova took her fight for justice for her daughter to social media, despite the perceptions of a social stigma.
Gulbadar Musinova took her fight for justice for her daughter to social media, despite the perceptions of a social stigma.

The suspects in an alleged gang rape last month in southeastern Kazakhstan are in custody and authorities there are on the defensive following a desperate social-media push by the victim's family to demand justice.

The 30-year-old victim's mother posted a video appeal after police in the rural town of Esik appeared to ignore the accusations of the brutal assault, in which she says the woman and a male relative were attacked leaving a karaoke cafe late one evening.

Shattering the silence that Kazakh activists say is far more common in the ethnically sprawling, mostly Muslim country of around 18 million, Gulbadar Musinova took to YouTube to detail the incident, accuse police of a cover-up, and counter a stigma.

"Why should I be ashamed?" the mother asks in the video (see below), fighting back tears. "Those men who raped my daughter should be ashamed, not us."

She alleged that one of the perpetrators was the son of an influential local official and that police were thus eager to sweep the case under the carpet.

The 3 1/2-minute video appeal prompted extensive coverage on national media and social media, with comments condemning the police along with the accused rapists.

No 'Forgiveness'

The way the Musinov family is dealing with the case is "unprecedented" in Kazakhstan, according to activist Dina Smailova, who recently launched an online campaign called (Don't Stay Silent) encouraging rape victims to speak out and seek justice.

Official statistics are difficult to obtain, but Smailova says the vast majority of rapes in Kazakhstan go unreported. In many cases, she says, perpetrators settle the matter with the victim's family outside court through a practice known as "forgiveness."

Some people in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia practice so-called bride kidnapping -- essentially marriage by abduction, frequently nonconsensual on the woman's side.

But Smailova, a former rape victim herself, praises the Musinov family's actions and says such determination can lead to convictions of rapists as well as of police officers who help cover up such crimes.

"It wasn't an oversight on the police's behalf, it was involvement in the crime," she adds, "because there were obvious suspects and obvious clues, including the car."

Claims Of Cover-Up

A visibly shaken Gulbadar Musinova gave a detailed account of the August 13 attack on her daughter, Zhibek, in the video and later to RFE/RL's Current Time.

She said Zhibek and a male relative who was accompanying her got into an argument with four men inside the local cafe before the four ambushed the pair outside. She said they beat up the young woman's relative, Rustam, then forced Zhibek into a car and sped away.

The mother said family members tracked down the car hours later and found the attackers and victim still inside, with her daughter "almost naked" and "screaming in pain."

A brother, Zholaman Musinov, told RFE/RL's Current Time that the family "detained two of them" on the spot and "two others ran away." The family handed over the suspects to authorities at the Esik district police station, not far from the scene of the alleged rape, he added.

But they were set free after a denial and, the mother insisted, a cover-up began "because one of the attackers is a relative of a high-ranking district official." She said the accused were "behaving like they can get away with anything."

She also complained of her daughter's treatment by doctors at Esik's hospital, where she was sent by the police for a medical examination.

The other victim in the attack, Rustam, "fears for his life" after receiving "threats" that include a caller warning him to "think about your family, your relatives," Musinova said.

But since Musinova posted the video and messages of support followed, regional authorities in the Almaty region have launched a new investigation and arrested four suspects.

The regional anticorruption agency has said it's looking into the allegations against the local police.

The "old stereotypes," activist Smailova says, are changing.

Meanwhile, in their modest house in Esik, the Musinov family stands by its decision to go public with information that some might regard as "shameful" in their society. What happened to my daughter should not happen to others, says the mother of the victim, adding, "We need to stop this."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Current Time correspondent Dmitriy Belyakov
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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