Following a spate of troubling high-profile cases of gender-based violence, police in Kazakhstan are eager to be seen as grappling with the problem.
Speaking at a briefing on January 8, Renat Zulkhairov, a senior Interior Ministry official, indicated that figures from the second half of 2023 are a step in the right direction.
From July to December, police initiated administrative cases in connection with 64 percent of allegations of domestic violence, while that figure has generally not tended to exceed 30 percent. Twice as many arrests have been carried out over domestic violence offenses, Zulkhairov said.
The official said that more than 87,000 protective orders, which prohibit domestic violence offenders from contacting their victims and children for a month, have been issued over the past year. And the courts have handed down behavioral orders on 15,000 separate occasions – anything ranging from bans on drinking alcohol to evicting violent offenders from their homes – over that period.
Zulkhairov spoke of this as a triumph.
“The police are taking measures that allow us to formulate a principle of intolerance towards crime in society,” he said.
Lawmakers in May adopted changes to legislation that increased liability for domestic violence and ostensibly gave law enforcement agencies more scope to intervene.
Under amendments that came into force on July 1, it became possible for police to intervene in situations not just in instances when a victim had filed a report, but even when an episode of violence had been recorded.
Offenders are also less free to resort to the mechanism of court reconciliation as a way of ending prosecutions. Domestic violence may only rely on mediated resolution on a single occasion. It has typically been the case that half the court cases to do with domestic violence have been cut short due to reconciliation between the parties.
These breakthroughs are arguably the result of President Jomart-Kassym Tokayev, who included pledges to toughen up punishments for domestic violence among his proposed social reforms in a state of the nation speech in September 2022.
Not everybody offers such a rosy picture, though. Independent rights activists say they see no signs of significant improvement in the situation, since police and even judges in practice still often limit themselves to letting perpetrators off with just a warning, even after severe beatings.
The sense of a culture of impunity was starkly illustrated in November, when a former top government minister, Kuandyk Bishimbayev, was arrested in Astana on suspicion of murdering his wife. Thirty-one-year-old Saltanat Nukenova died as a result of severe beatings. People who knew the couple closely gave testimony at the time of how Bishimbayev routinely physically abused his wife, but was never taken to task.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.