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May 11, 2020 Report Launch

Trial Observation Report: Kyrgyzstan vs. Gulzhan Pasanova

Updated May 11, 2020 

View Russian Executive Summary (русский) 

From February to March 2020, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights monitored the criminal trial of Gulzhan Pasanova in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative. Ms. Pasanova was prosecuted for and convicted of the offense of grievous bodily harm for fatally injuring her husband. Ms. Pasanova, who had been subjected to long-term domestic abuse by her husband, claimed she acted in self-defense. The proceedings against Ms. Pasanova were marred by serious fair trial violations: in particular, violations of the right to call and examine witnesses, the right to an impartial tribunal, the right to appeal, and the right to the presumption of innocence. Further, the prosecutor and court disregarded the documented history of domestic violence, in contravention of Ms. Pasanova’s right to be free from discrimination.

Ms. Gulzhan Pasanova is a 29-year old woman (as of April 2020) from Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. At the time of the alleged offense, Ms. Pasanova was living with her husband, Mr. Umutbek Akdhzigitovich Isakov, and their children. The testimony of witnesses, corroborated by Ms. Pasanova’s medical records, indicates that she was subjected to prolonged physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Mr. Isakov. 

In the days leading up to his death, Mr. Isakov had accused Ms. Pasanova of having an affair and confiscated her phone. On the night of November 19, 2019, Mr. Isakov and Ms. Pasanova got into an argument over Mr. Isakov’s suspicions. Ms. Pasanova alleges that Mr. Isakov threw a knife at her, threatened her, and hit her. According to Ms. Pasanova, she grabbed a reinforcing rod from an adjoining room and, out of fear for her wellbeing, struck Mr. Isakov on the head. She subsequently sought assistance from Mr. Isakov’s brother, who called an ambulance. Mr. Isakov died at the hospital. On November 20, 2019, Ms. Pasanova was arrested. That same day, an investigating judge ordered that she be detained pending trial. 

The decision to impose pretrial detention appears to have been unjustified. Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) requires courts to undertake an individualized assessment of the necessity of pretrial detention, which should always be an exceptional measure. According to Ms. Pasanova’s counsel, the court ordered pretrial detention solely based on the severity of the crime, without reference to Ms. Pasanova’s specific circumstances. This type of categorical justification does not comport with the ICCPR. 

At the trial stage, violations persisted. Defense counsel argued that Ms. Pasanova had acted in self-defense or in a state of “extreme emotional distress” stemming from long-term abuse, thereby diminishing her criminal responsibility. In support of these theories, the defense requested to call witnesses, including neighbors who were familiar with the history of abuse and ambulance workers who attended the scene and could speak to Ms. Pasanova’s demeanor. The court, however, denied all such requests, deeming the proposed witnesses irrelevant to the case. 

The defense also requested a psychiatric examination to evaluate Ms. Pasanova’s mental state at the time of the alleged offense. The court denied this request, stating that the psychiatric examination conducted during the investigation - which focused exclusively on Ms. Pasanova’s fitness to stand trial without assessing the potential effects of long-term abuse on her mental state at the time of the incident - was sufficient. By precluding the testimony of key fact witnesses as well as an expert examination central to the defense case, the court violated Ms. Pasanova’s right to call and examine witnesses, protected by Article 14(3) of the ICCPR. 

The aforementioned decisions disadvantaged the defense in relation to the prosecution, contravening the principle of equality of arms. The rulings, all to the detriment of the defense, likewise evinced the court’s lack of impartiality - in violation of Article 14(1) of the ICCPR. The court’s bias was further demonstrated by the judgment convicting Ms. Pasanova, which failed to address the defense arguments that Ms. Pasanova acted in self-defense or, at the very least, in a state of “extreme emotional distress.” 

Instead, in finding Ms. Pasanova guilty of grievous bodily harm, the court limited its assessment to evidence that Ms. Pasanova fatally injured her husband - an issue that was never disputed. The key factual question raised at trial was not whether Ms. Pasanova fatally injured her husband, but why she did so. In bypassing the crux of the case, the court violated Ms. Pasanova’s right to appeal under Article 14(5) of the ICCPR, the exercise of which necessitates a duly reasoned judgment. Absent sufficient rationale for a conviction, a defendant cannot effectively challenge the decision before a higher tribunal. 

Notably, Ms. Pasanova was confined in a metal cage for the duration of courtroom proceedings. This presentation to the court, indicating that Ms. Pasanova was a dangerous criminal, violated the presumption of innocence protected by Article 14(2) of the ICCPR. The injustice therein was exacerbated by the fact that, trapped in the cage, Ms. Pasanova was forced to endure a continuous barrage of insults and curses directed at her by Mr. Isakov’s relatives. 

In addition to the fair trial violations set forth above, the prosecution’s behavior raised serious concerns. Over the course of the trial, the prosecutor repeatedly used inappropriate language, spoke out of turn, and screamed at the defense attorneys and Ms. Pasanova, breaching ethical standards that require prosecutors to act with integrity and professionalism. 

Further, the conduct of both the prosecutor and the court violated Ms. Pasanova’s right to freedom from discrimination, as established by the ICCPR and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The prosecution, for example, relied on archaic gender stereotypes to make its case, suggesting, among other things, that Ms. Pasanova was lying about domestic violence, that she would not have stayed with Mr. Isakov if she had truly been abused, and that any abuse that did occur was Ms. Pasanova’s fault. The court failed to intervene and, correspondingly, treated the issue of long-term abuse as irrelevant to the case, omitting any mention of domestic violence in determining Ms. Pasanova’s guilt and the appropriate sentence. 

The devaluing of domestic violence survivors’ experiences is a widespread problem in Kyrgyzstan, as evidenced by the lack of institutional support for survivors, the rarity of investigation and prosecution of domestic violence complaints, the shaming of survivors who speak out, and the many obstacles that survivors face in the judicial system. That Ms. Pasanova’s experiences were discounted at every stage of the criminal proceedings against her thus reflects a larger pattern of victim-blaming and marginalization.

View Full Report (English -  updated on May 11,2020)

View Full Report in Russian (русский - updated on May 11, 2020)