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Former Kazakh Minister Gets 24 Years for Wife’s Murder

By Vusala Abbasova May 14, 2024

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The verdict was announced on Monday by Judge Aizhan Kulbaeva in an Astana courtroom, following a trial that was broadcast live and sparked widespread discussions about domestic violence in the country. / Turar Kazangapov / Reuters

In a high-profile trial that has gripped the nation, Kuandyk Bishimbayev, Kazakhstan’s former economy minister, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for the torture and murder of his wife, Saltanat Nukenova.

The verdict was announced on Monday by Judge Aizhan Kulbaeva in an Astana courtroom, following a trial that was broadcast live and sparked widespread discussions about domestic violence in the country.

“Bishimbayev Kuandyk Alikhanovich has been found guilty of committing criminal offenses under p. 1. part 2 of article 110 (“Torture”) and point 5 part 2 of article 99 (“Murder”). 2 part 2 of article 99 (“Murder”) of the Criminal Code,” the judge declared.

Bishimbayev was handed a seven-year sentence for torture and a twenty-year sentence for murder, the maximum penalties under the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan. Despite this, the court took into account mitigating factors such as Bishimbayev’s status as a parent to minor children when deciding on the final sentence.

The 44-year-old former minister, who held the position from May to December 2016, had previously been convicted of bribery in 2018. However, he was released after serving less than three years due to an amnesty and parole.

The tragic incident involving Saltanat Nukenova occurred in early November last year at the BAU restaurant in Astana, which is owned by Bishimbayev's mother, Almira Nurlybayeva. Throughout the trial, Bishimbayev admitted to physically assaulting his wife but claimed that some of her injuries were self-inflicted. He vehemently denied accusations of torture and premeditated murder. Initially, his legal team contested medical evidence indicating Nukenova died from blows to the head.

Bakytzhan Baizhanov, a relative of Bishimbayev, received a four-year prison sentence for charges related to concealing and failing to report the murder.

The trial, which garnered widespread attention, has fueled calls for harsher penalties for domestic violence in Kazakhstan. This development comes amid recent legislative changes aimed at bolstering protections for women and children in the country.

Recently enacted laws, such as “On Amendments and Additions to Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan Regarding the Protection of Women’s Rights and Children’s Safety” and “On Amendments and Additions to the Administrative Offenses Code of Kazakhstan Regarding the Protection of Women’s Rights and Children’s Safety,” significantly enhance protections for vulnerable groups. Kazakhstan has been hailed as the first in the Commonwealth of Independent States region to introduce such comprehensive measures for their protection.

Domestic violence against women remains a pervasive issue in Kazakhstan. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2023 alone, courts convicted 67,270 individuals of administrative offenses related to domestic violence, while police received 99,026 reports of family violence.

Under the new legislation, law enforcement agencies are now tasked with the responsibility of gathering evidence in cases of domestic abuse, relieving survivors of this burden. Additionally, the law mandates that all instances of domestic violence must be documented and investigated by the police, regardless of whether a formal complaint is filed. This includes cases highlighted in the media or on social platforms. Moreover, the law eliminates the option of pursuing “reconciliation” between parties to address repeated instances of “battery” and “light bodily harm.”

While hailed as significant progress, the amendments fall short of criminalizing domestic violence as a standalone offense in either the Criminal Code or Kazakhstan’s 2009 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Human Rights Watch emphasizes that international human rights law necessitates the recognition of domestic violence as a grave crime against both individuals and society.