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Kazakh court sentences ex-minister to 24 years for wife’s murder

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — A court in Kazakhstan on Monday sentenced a former economy minister to 24 years in prison for the murder of his wife, in a case that led the patriarchal Central Asian nation to toughen its domestic abuse laws.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev was found guilty of torture and murder in the November 2023 beating death of Saltanat Nukenova.

The trial of Bishimbayev, which began in March, has been broadcast live. He will serve his sentence in a maximum-security prison.

The former minister beat Nukenova in a family restaurant in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on Nov. 9. His cousin Bakhytzhan Bayzhanov was found guilty of helping him to cover up the murder and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Both men have 15 days to appeal the ruling.

“I hope this non-human would be given a life sentence,” Nukenova’s father, Amengeldy Nukenov, told journalists before the verdict was read.

During the trial, thousands of people urged the authorities to adopt harsher penalties for domestic violence.

The 24-year-long sentence has taken the public, especially rights activists, aback.

“Of course, we all expected a life sentence because the woman was killed deliberately with inconceivable violence,” Zhanar Sekerbayeva, cofounder of Kazakhstan’s LGBTQ women’s right group called, Feminita, told VOA after the verdict.

Sekerbayeva said her group held a march Monday along Almaty streets to protest a lack of “the strictest punishment” for Bishimbayev.

Bishimbayev served as an aide of the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and as national economy minister until his arrest in 2017 for corruption crimes.

In March 2018, Bishimbayev was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was released on parole in September 2019.

The murder trial drew parallels to the “trial of the century” of former U.S. football star O.J. Simpson, who in the 1990s was charged with the murder of his former wife. He was acquitted in 1995 in Nicole Brown Simpson’s death.

The Bishimbayev case brought attention to the wider topic of domestic violence in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the region.

During the case, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev weighed in early and ordered the Interior Ministry to keep the case under special scrutiny.

“Everyone should be equal before the law,” he said last November in reference to Nukenova’s death. “Justice in society is citizens’ solidarity for the sake of strengthening the rule of law. A just Kazakhstan is a country where law and order triumph.”

Nukenova’s death highlighted the precarious position that victims of domestic violence can end up in and added urgency to the adoption of legislation against such abuse.

As a result, the Kazakh parliament adopted a new bill on domestic violence in April, which the president immediately signed into law.

The country registers around 300 complaints about domestic violence every day, and at least 80 women die from domestic abuse every year, according to figures from Kazakh prosecutors.

But a 2018 study backed by U.N. Women found about 400 women die from domestic violence each year in Kazakhstan, although many cases go unreported.

Last October, Culture and Information Minister Aida Balayeva said that “869 people had died as a result of domestic violence in the past 4.5 years,” without specifying gender or age.

The new law offers better protections to victims of domestic violence, such as shifting the responsibility for the collection of evidence from the victims to the police.

Police also now must register and investigate all domestic violence cases, even those not reported by a victim but by the media or on social media.

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, hailed the new law as an improvement, but said it “fails to explicitly make domestic violence a stand-alone offense in the criminal code or elsewhere.”

Source: VOA