Kazakhstan jails former minister for 24 years over wife’s torture, murder

United Nations says about 400 women die from domestic violence in Kazakhstan each year, but many cases go unreported.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev
Kazakhstan's former Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev attends a court hearing in Astana [File: Turar Kazangapov/Reuters]

Warning: This article contains details of violent domestic abuse that some may find upsetting.

Kazakhstan’s top court has sentenced a former economy minister to 24 years in prison for torturing and murdering his wife, following a widely watched trial that many saw as a test of the president’s promise to strengthen women’s rights.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev, 44, was found guilty and sentenced by the Supreme Court on Monday.

His trial, which has been broadcast live over the past seven weeks, has been seen as an attempt by authorities to send a message that members of the elite are no longer above the law.

Surveillance footage played during the trial showed Bishimbayev repeatedly punching and kicking his wife, 31-year-old Saltanat Nukenova, and dragging her by her hair, near naked, into the VIP room of a restaurant owned by his family in Astana.

As she lay dying in the suite with no security cameras covered in her blood, Bishimbayev phoned a fortune teller, who assured him his wife would be fine. When an ambulance finally arrived 12 hours later, Nukenova was pronounced dead at the scene.

Videos were also found on Bishimbayev’s mobile phone in which he insulted and humiliated the visibly bruised and bloodied Nukenova in the hours before she lost consciousness on the morning of November 9 last year.

Kazakhstan Domestic Violence
This June 2017 photo provided by Aitbek Amangeldy shows a selfie taken by his sister, Saltanat Nukenova, in Astana [Courtesy of Aitbek Amangeldy via AP]

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has said he wants to build a fairer society including improved rights for women.

The case has helped rally public support behind a law criminalising domestic violence, which parliament passed last month.

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. When the trial began, more than 5,000 Kazakhs wrote to senators urging for tougher laws on abuse, according to local media reports.

Government data show that one in six women in the Central Asian nation has experienced violence by a male partner.

According to the United Nations, about 400 women die from domestic abuse in the country each year. These figures could be higher as many cases go unreported.

During the trial, Bishimbayev admitted to beating his wife, but said some of her injuries were self-inflicted. He denied torturing or planning to murder her.

He served as the oil-rich nation’s economy minister from May to December 2016.

Bishimbayev was convicted of bribery in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but walked free after less than three years thanks to an amnesty and parole.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev
Kuandyk Bishimbayev, the country’s former economy minister, is escorted into court in Astana, Kazakhstan. [File: The Kazakhstan Supreme Court Press Office Telegram channel via AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies