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A Kazakh Prisoner Says A Guard Raped Her. Now She's The One In Trouble.

The women's prison in Zhaugashty near Almaty
The women's prison in Zhaugashty near Almaty

ALMATY -- A 24-year-old inmate at the Zhaugashty women's prison in southeastern Kazakhstan has accused a male guard of raping her.

But instead of taking action against the guard, prison officials and a local court have declared the alleged victim "insane," her lawyers say.

Now the woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, faces imminent transfer to a psychiatric hospital for "treatment," her lawyers add. The woman's defense team says officials do not want to acknowledge that rape exits in Kazakh prisons and are trying to silence those who speak out about the taboo issue.

"I have been threatened and warned that -- given my status here as a convict -- I can't prove anything, and that the complaint letters I write don't even leave this facility," the woman said in a letter to her lawyers, who provided a copy to RFE/RL.

The lawyers say they have appealed the December 7 ruling by the Ile district court ordering the woman to be placed "under intense supervision" in the National Psychiatric Hospital in Almaty Province. The court also acquitted the guard accused of raping her.

Officials at the Zhaugashty prison, located in a town of the same name, told RFE/RL that "four officers have been temporarily suspended" in connection with the case. They refused to provide any further details.

'Unbearable Torture And Threats'

The woman was sent to Zhaugashty in February 2020, shortly after she was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison. She had pleaded guilty to an unspecified crime.

The married mother of three from Jambyl Province was pregnant at the time of her arrest. She gave birth in prison, but the infant died just days after he was born.

The woman admitted to having a "verbal conflict" with prison staff, blaming it on her postnatal depression and grief. As punishment for her outbursts, the woman was placed in the prison's isolation ward, where she alleges the rape occurred.

In the letter to her lawyers, the woman alleged that a guard had been harassing her for months prior to the alleged rape. "When I was locked in the isolation ward -- there are no cameras there -- he raped me," the woman wrote.

Following the alleged rape, the guard forced her to take a shower to get rid of evidence, according to her lawyers. But they say she wiped the semen with her T-shirt before washing herself. Her lawyers used it as evidence in court.

Since the alleged rape, the woman's husband has stopped visiting her. Many rape victims in the predominately Muslim country are shunned by their families, who view them as a stain on the family's honor.

Inside the prison, her allegations provoked "threats" and "pressure," the woman said in the letter to her lawyers. The woman also alleges that she was denied access to her lawyers. "They have threatened to put me in solitary confinement, and they pitted other prisoners against me," the woman said in her letter. "I'm enduring unbearable torture and threats."

Desperate Measures

Desperate for help from the outside world, the woman ingested a spoon so she would be taken to the hospital. But during her brief stay, she was closely monitored by a guard and unable to speak to anyone.

She tried again several months later. In June 2021, she swallowed a nail, prompting prison authorities to send her to the hospital again. This time, she managed to speak to a woman, a visitor at the hospital, about her plight and asked for her help.

"That woman called me anonymously on the evening of June 26," Viktor Ten, one of the alleged victim's defense lawyers, told RFE/RL. Ten is a member of the National Preventive Mechanism, an independent watchdog that monitors prisons in Kazakhstan.

Two days later, Ten and fellow lawyer Aleksandr Kim met the alleged victim in Zhaugashty prison. After speaking with her, the two lawyers agreed to represent her in court. But they lost the case, and the court cleared the guard of rape and mistreatment charges on December 7.

Since promptly lodging an appeal, her lawyers say they have been denied access to their client. The only exception was a brief phone call from the woman, who said prison staff had told her that she will soon be sent for "psychiatric treatment."

According to Ten, his client's decision to ingest a spoon and a nail was used by prosecutors as evidence of insanity. But Ten insists it was a desperate measure by his client seeking help. He insists that his client does not suffer from any psychiatric condition.

"This woman was found 100 percent healthy and mentally stable when she was examined as a suspect in a crime two years ago," Ten told RFE/RL. "After spending time in prison, she was found insane. If that is the case, authorities should question how inmates are being treated in prison."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by Manshuk Aautai of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

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