From Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 16, 2024, p. 3. Complete text:

After weeks of a high-profile trial, former Kazakh economic development minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev was found guilty of murdering his wife Saltanat Nukenova and sentenced to 24 years in prison. For the first time in the country’s history, the case was broadcast online, and a jury decided whether the defendant was guilty.

According to the investigation materials reviewed by the court, in the early morning of Nov. 9, 2023, the 44-year-old former official beat his 31-year-old wife in a restaurant in the center of Astana after a quarrel, and the argument and beating lasted about eight hours, which was possible because [they were in] a separate VIP room at the restaurant where everything happened. Nukenova later died from her injuries, including brain trauma and a broken nose. At the same time, Bishimbayev did nothing to save his wife or help her in any way, as was proven by the investigators.

Bishimbayev’s case took place in circumstances unprecedented for Kazakhstan, with virtually the whole country watching the public trial. The proceedings were the main news in the country’s media field for two months. There are several reasons for this, primarily the identity of the convict.

Bishimbayev comes from a well-known and influential family from Kyzylorda. His father was the rector of several universities in the south of the country and a member of parliament. The future official received an excellent education, including the government’s Bolashak program at George Washington University in the US. After that, he had a dizzying career in civil service; at the age of 29, after working in various positions in the Economic Ministry, the prime minister’s office and the presidential administration, he was appointed as an aide to the Kazakh president. At the age of 36, Bishimbayev became the youngest minister in the country, as head of the National Economy Ministry.

But in 2017, the young official’s fast-paced career was suddenly cut short. He was arrested and a year later sentenced to 10 years for bribery and embezzlement of budget funds when he was the head of the state holding Baiterek. He served only two of the required 10 years and was released on parole in October 2019.

Kuandyk’s personal story in Kazakh society was perceived as the rapid rise and fall of a representative of the golden youth, even if his fall came with a light punishment. Bishimbayev’s murder of his common-law wife after his early release from prison caused a sharp emotional reaction in society, which demanded a just punishment for the former official. After all, in [the case of] Bishimbayev, the Kazakh public consciousness was trying not only him, but also numerous officials who escaped punishment for their crimes or got off with symbolic punishments.

Another important aspect that led to such a high interest in the Bishimbayev case was the issue of the status of women in Kazakhstan and the problem of domestic violence, which was not a criminal offense in the country. The furor surrounding a former official’s murder of his wife made this issue as acute as possible for the authorities. Kazakh activists and public figures launched a petition calling for tougher penalties for domestic violence, which received more than 150,000 signatures in a few months. As a result, under public pressure, the Kazakh parliament adopted the corresponding law, which also provides for the creation of specialized support centers in the country to help victims of violence. On April 15, the [Kazakh] President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev signed the law, popularly known as the Saltanat Act.

Bishimbayev’s guilty verdict in the murder of his wife and his sentence of 24 years in prison are viewed in various ways in Kazakhstan. Hard-liners consider the sentence too lenient and are demanding a life sentence. But in general, the public was pleased with the punishment for the former official, since, given the high amount of press attention to the case, there is no reason to expect a commutation of the sentence in the coming years, and the convict is guaranteed to spend at least 10 years in prison.

Thanks to the Bishimbayev case, Kazakhstan has undergone significant transformations over the past six months. First, because of unprecedented activity, society in the republic was able to change the usual course of legal proceedings against former and current high-ranking officials. Usually, the state machine has tried to review such cases discreetly, limiting itself to minimal punishment, but now an official has been punished to the fullest extent of the law. Secondly, after Nukenova’s death, the status and safety of women in the family has become one of the top priority areas of focus for the work of journalists, public figures and human rights defenders. Thanks to such public attention, as well as stricter legal measures, hundreds of women in the country are already being saved from domestic violence. Moreover, across the country, women have begun to publicly report violence by their husbands, hoping to get protection and justice on the public wave [of support]. Thirdly, due to the public and detailed consideration of such a high-profile case, Kazakhstan has increased confidence in the judicial system and the work of law-enforcement agencies.