Shocking trial of ex-minister has shifted domestic violence attitudes in Kazakhstan, says brother

Shocking trial of ex-minister has shifted domestic violence attitudes in Kazakhstan, says brother
Kuandyk Bishimbayev and Saltanat Nurkenova at their wedding. / screenshot
By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2024

The brother of Saltanat Nukenova—allegedly beaten to death by former Kazakh economy minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev in a torture ordeal that lasted several hours—has said that he is in no doubt that the trial of the accused has brought about a shift in public attitudes towards domestic violence in Kazakhstan.

With many Kazakhs stunned by shocking CCTV video footage streamed online from the court showing Bishimbayev punching and kicking Nukenova and dragging her by her hair at a family restaurant, the brother, Aitbek Amangeldy, told The Associated Press: "It changes people's minds when they see directly what it looks like when a person is tortured."

The trial of Bishimbayev, 44, is the first court hearing in the Central Asian country of 19mn to ever be streamed online, making it readily watchable.

Bishimbayev is accused of subjecting Nukenova to a torture ordeal that lasted several hours (Credit: Kazakhstan Supreme Court Press Office).

Nukenova, 31, was found dead in November in the restaurant, owned by one of her husband's relatives. Hours after the harrowing video footage was recorded, she died of brain trauma.

According to a 2018 study backed by UN Women, around 400 women die as a result of domestic violence in Kazakhstan every year, although many cases go unreported.

Following the tragic death of Nukenova, tens of thousands of people in the country signed a petition demanding tougher measures against perpetrators of domestic violence. Last month, senators approved a bill, dubbed "Saltanat's Law", that toughens spousal abuse laws, criminalising the act of domestic violence.

In the trial, Bishimbayev for weeks maintained his innocence. However, last month he admitted in court that he had beaten Nukenova and "unintentionally" caused her death.

Previously, as he attempted to explain his not-guilty plea, Nukenova’s grief-stricken mother shouted in an outburst: "How can you say that? Unintended? You were beating her to death for several hours!"

She had to leave the courtroom when photos of her daughter's injuries were shown in court. The judge banned the circulation of the images outside the courtroom.

Former politician Bishimbayev already had some notoriety. He was jailed for bribery in 2018, but spent less than two years of his 10-year sentence in prison before he was pardoned.

Amangeldy has been vocal about the Bishimbayev’s hearing in the Kazakh media, while also being a key witness in the trial.

Bishimbayev’s lawyers have portrayed Nukenova as psychologically unstable and prone to violence, jealousy and alcohol abuse. 

None of the footage shown to the court shows Nukenova assaulting Bishimbayev.

Relatively early in the trial, Bishimbayev triggered incredulity when he acknowledged that with Nukenova still in a state of shock after the violence, he chose to phone a soothsayer he regularly consulted for advice instead of an ambulance.