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Kazakhstani ex-government official sentenced for wife’s torture and murder in Central Asia


May 13, 2024

Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court on Monday convicted a former government official of torturing and murdering his wife and sentenced him to 24 years in prison in a case that has gripped the Central Asian nation.

During the trial of Kuandyk Bishimbayev, Kazakhstan’s former economy minister, over the death of his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, thousands of people urged the authorities to adopt harsher penalties for domestic violence. Authorities adopted a bill toughening spousal abuse laws.

Kazakhstan largely remains a patriarchal society, and progress has been slow on issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and disparities in employment.


Bishimbayev’s trial was the first in the country of over 19 million people to be streamed online, and debates about it dominated social media.

Nukenova, 31, was found dead in November in a restaurant owned by one of her husband’s relatives. The 44-year-old Bishimbayev maintained his innocence before admitting in court last month that he had beaten her and “unintentionally” caused her death. His lawyers initially disputed medical evidence indicating Nukenova died from blows to the head.

Bishimbayev’s relative, Bakhytzhan Baizhanov, was sentenced to four years in prison for helping Bishimbayev cover up the murder.

Days after Nukenova’s death, her relatives launched an online petition urging authorities to pass “Saltanat’s Law” to bolster protection for those at risk of domestic violence. It quickly got over 150,000 signatures. As the trial began, more than 5,000 Kazakhs wrote senators urging tougher laws on abuse, Kazakh media said.

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has repeatedly spoken about strengthening protections for women. In January, he intervened after the Justice Ministry refused to consider the petition by Nukenova’s family.

According to a 2018 study backed by UN Women, about 400 women die from domestic violence each year in Kazakhstan, although many cases go unreported.

In 2017, Kazakhstan decriminalized beatings and other acts causing “minor” physical damage, making them punishable only by fines or short jail terms. Kazakhstan has since reversed its law, increasing penalties for assailants and introducing new criminal offenses, including harassment of minors.

Senate Speaker Maulen Ashimbayev said that properly implementing the new law adopted in the wake of the trial will require “a great deal of work,” including educational campaigns in schools and the media as well as vigilance from civil society groups.


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