Zere Asylbek has been the recipient of several death threats over her attire in the music video for her song Kyz (Girl), which was written to generate public debate on gender inequality and women’s rights in Kyrgyzstan. In the video Asylbek is seen wearing a jacket and bra.
Freemuse calls for Kyrgyz authorities to ensure the safety of Asylbek and launch a criminal investigation into the threats.
“It is Zere’s right to use art to express herself and the issues she sees as critical for women without fear of being persecuted, threatened or harmed in any way. The government of Kyrgyzstan must protect freedom of artistic expression and ensure that she is safe and can continue to have this important public conversation in her own country,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said.
The singer released the song as a means to tackle issues that particularly affect women, including domestic violence and the practice of bride kidnapping.
In a 20 September interview with Asylbek, the singer told Freemuse that there was a recent, famous case in Kyrgyzstan in which a girl, named Burulai, who was “bride kidnapped”—an ancient tradition where girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage—died under police custody. The girl was left alone in a police station with the kidnapper who subsequently killed her. She explained that cases such as this and the general situation for women in the country is what inspired her to write and perform her song. Asylbek explained:
For sure I am going to continue impacting my country and the world in general…because I am a creative person and I love doing creative projects…There was a bunch of things that caused this idea in my head of making a huge impact and using provocative things for it.
There were a lot of girls like Burulai in our country and I also wish that we will not have this kind of cases anymore. So there is a lot of factors that reflected on me.
The situation in our country and I think in Central Asia in general is not so good in terms of women’s rights and gender equality because every day there are cases of discrimination— cases of double standards. I can tell that almost any girl in our country has had at least one kind of violation or harassment or discrimination. So it seems tragic to me.
The girls themselves they do not see the alternative. A lot of them think it is okay to be treated that way … and that is why it limits their potential I think. It limits their dreams and ideas because they do not see any alternative. And they see that the point of living is to get married and have a family, have kids and stuff like that.
Asylbek shared on her Facebook page some of the threats she’s received as private messages via social media. One message she received on Instagram reads: “If you don’t remove the video and don’t apologise to the Kyrgyz people, we will kill you soon. This will be the first and last time.
Another private message reads: “I will gladly join and cut your head off”.
Though the song was originally released in July 2018, it wasn’t until the video was released on 13 September that the artist began receiving threats.
In the song Asylbek sings:
I wish the time passed, I wish (a new) time came
When they wouldn’t preach to me how I should spend my life
When they wouldn’t tell me ‘Do like this,’ ‘Don’t do like that’
Why should I be like you want, or like the majority wants,
I am a person, and I have my freedom of speech.
Where is your respect for me?
I’ll respect you. You respect me.
You and I, together,
Hey, dear, join me,
We will create our freedom.
According to an 18 September 2018 United Nations Human Rights report: “Women in Kyrgyzstan suffer grave and systematic violations of their human rights due to a culture of abduction, rape and forced marriage”.