Saltanat Nukenova’s Murder Highlights Kazakhstan’s Femicides

Livestreams of the trial have meant that domestic violence can no longer be ignored


Former Minister of Economy Kuandyk Bishimbayev is accused of killing his wife Saltanat Nukenova and he was put on trial. This high visibility exposure, brings the debate on domestic violence to the forefront of Kazakh society. Due in part to an online livestream of the trial the case has been widely discussed. It has opened conversations about what the law can do to protect victims of abuse, and to punish the perpetrators.

Saltanat Nukenova was murdered in November 2023 at a restaurant in Astana. Coroners found that her death was caused by brain trauma after being beaten. Bishimbayev is charged with torture and murder with extreme violence. His relative Bakhytzhan Baizhanov, who owned the restaurant that Saltanat was murdered in, is charged with failing to report the crime. Bishimbayev pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder, but admits he was involved in her death. 

The owner of the TikTok account @Justiceforsalta is dedicated to spreading the word about Saltanat’s case, and says “this whole trial unfortunately only emphasises the fact that in Kazakhstan, beating and killing women is not a serious offence.” Domestic violence and femicide occurs frequently in the country. Fully 17% of women with partners say they have experienced physical or sexual abuse. Only a minority of women facing abuse report it to the police. Most stay silent due to the stigma and shame attached to it, or because they know the case will not be taken seriously

Some believe Bishimbayev will not be fully punished even if he is sentenced guilty, due to his former position in the government. In 2017, he was arrested on charges of bribery and sentenced to 10 years in prison, yet he only served 3 of these. This points to endemic corruption within the Kazakh judiciary system, causing a distrust that further dissuades women from coming forward.

The trial has received widespread public attention in Kazakhstan, partly due to Bishimbayev’s former political career, and partly because it is one of the most prominent femicide cases in recent history. However, the case has received little coverage in the Western press. People across Kazakhstan are encouraging those in the West to share Saltanat’s story on social media. @Justiceforsalta says, “unfortunately at the moment we… can do nothing except to publicise this case”.

In 2017, domestic violence was decriminalised in Kazakhstan, making it punishable with fines. However, since Bishimbayev’s trial, a new bill has been passed making domestic violence a criminal offence rather than civil. The bill has also expanded definitions of violence against women and children, and lengthened punishments. It has been praised around the world, notably by the EU, and a UN representative for Kazakhstan.

Yet, @Justiceforsalta is not confident this new law will change deep-rooted attitudes, saying “our country will likely never take the mistreatment of women seriously”. She says, “I hope that in the future there will be fewer such killers and abusers and we will be able to walk down the street without fear that we will be killed”. This new bill is simultaneously the first step in the right direction, but a disgrace. Disgraceful that a young woman like Saltanat had to be brutally murdered for things to change.