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When The Victim Is Guilty: Gender Bias In Tajik, Kyrgyz Courts

Parvin Jahongiri (right) said that she told her story so that young women would not be afraid or stay silent about violence or harassment in the workplace.

Two recent court cases, one in Tajikistan and the other in Kyrgyzstan, point once again to discrimination against women in Central Asian courts.

On October 27, a Tajik court found young fashion designer Parvin Jahongiri guilty of defamation while the daily Vecherny Dushanbe (Vecherka) was found guilty of libel for publishing her story of verbal and physical abuse.

Fighting Back

In May 2019, Jahongiri presented her new fashion line, Virgo, at the Tajik Fashion Week 19 spring and summer collection. Her style was described as "street casual especially for women free from the prejudices set by society."

Her work had impressed the director of Tajik Fashion Week, Tohir Ibrahimov, who invited Jahongiri to work with him to create the T&Z showroom that would feature Jahongiri's apparel.

"I was never so close to my dream," she recalled.

But Jahongiri said from the first day she worked with him, Ibragimov insulted her, used foul language, threatened her, threw objects at her, and even threatened to rape her.

The independent information website Vecherka published a story on April 6 about Jahongiri in which she made accusations against Ibragimov and added that he had sometimes insulted and humiliated her in front of clients.

The showroom took orders for some 40 new outfits that Jahongiri was responsible for making, plus she had her own work. She admitted in the Vecherka story that she did not know how she would have enough time to work on the new orders and her own collection.

On March 13, Ibragimov told Jahongiri she was working too slowly. "He started to humiliate me, told me I was slow, I didn't know how to do anything...and that he could do all the work in two hours."

So, Jahongiri said, she threw the fabric down and told him, "Sew it yourself!"

Jahongiri said Ibragimov grabbed her by the throat and pinned her against the wall. She said Ibragimov's cousin had to separate them.

She quit and later told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, that she told her story to Vecherka so that young women would not be afraid or stay silent about violence or harassment in the workplace.

Ibragimov sued Jahongiri for defamation, saying her accusations had damaged his reputation, but he also sued Vecherka for libel, even though the daily had contacted Ibragimov and included his comments in the story.

Ibragimov told Vecherka that Jahongiri had worked slowly and the fashion project was losing money. He also admitted that he was "demanding" and said that "everyone I work with knows this."

The Firdawsi district court ruled in favor of Ibragimov and ordered Jahongiri and Vecherka to each pay 2,000 somons (about $200), which Ibragimov said he will give to charity.

Jahongiri and Vecherka plan to appeal the court verdict.

In a recent article in The Diplomat, an international news and politics website, the head of Internews in Tajikistan, Vadim Sadonshoev, said the court ruling against Jahongiri and Vercherka set a precedent that will deter independent media from reporting on gender-based violence.

Guilty Of Self-Defense?

Twenty-nine-year-old Gulnara Pasanova lives in southern Kyrgyzstan and says she was a victim of domestic violence. She says her husband -- who was 18 years older -- beat and tormented her for several years.

Pasanova says on November 19, 2019, her husband attacked her after consuming a lot of alcohol.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), "It wasn’t the first time Pasanova's husband attacked her. A forensic medical examination she underwent in 2019 showed evidence of previous physical abuse."

This time, Pasanova says, her husband threatened her, hit her, and threw a knife at her. Pasanova grabbed a metal rod and struck her husband in the head, knocking him unconscious.

Pasanova called an ambulance but her husband died at the hospital.

Pasanova was detained at her husband's funeral and, once in custody, admitted to striking him with the metal rod but said she did so in self-defense.

In March, the Osh city court found Pasanova guilty of causing grievous bodily harm and sentenced her to nine years in prison.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) monitored the trial and helped Pasanova file an appeal that noted that "the trial court had violated Ms. Pasanova's rights by denying her request to call witnesses who could have corroborated her testimony regarding prior domestic abuse and spoken to her mental state at the time of the incident in question."

A hearing for an appeal was held on June 17 and the court upheld the verdict but reduced the sentence by three years "as part of a general prisoner amnesty."

But the CFJ said the appeals court "concluded that 'the fact that the Defendant...was previously subjected to domestic violence and as a result [on the night in question] defended herself has not been proven.'"

The CFJ statement added, "Yet this was precisely what Ms. Pasanova had sought to prove at trial -- and had been denied the ability to do." It also noted that "the prosecutor interrupted 'Ms. Pasanova's testimony with insults and sought to portray her as a bad and ungrateful wife.'"

Alongside the CFJ, the American Bar Association has monitored Pasanova's case and said her case was "marred by serious fair-trial violations."

Among them, "Pasanova was confined in a metal cage for the duration of the courtroom proceedings" and "was forced to endure a continuous barrage of insults and curses directed at her by Mr. Isakov's relatives."

Her husband's relatives appealed the sentence reduction and asked the Supreme Court to impose the maximum 10-year sentence.

The Supreme Court began hearing the case on October 22.

"When women do report instances of domestic violence, their abusers are rarely punished," HRW said. It also linked to an earlier HRW report from the summer, when a Kyrgyz man was videotaped slapping his wife while forcing her to stand weighed down by tires and bricks and dousing her with water.

As the report said, the husband had been charged with "cruel treatment" and, "after a trial lasting two days, the man walked free."

These are just two stories from two countries, but there are scores of others like them and the one thing that ties them together is the willful participation of Central Asian courts in holding women who have been harassed or abused by men responsible for the crime of fighting back or speaking out.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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