How Kazakhstan Minister's Wife's Death Exposes Domestic Violence Rot

The arrest of Kuandyk Bishimbayev, former Minister of Economy, in connection with the brutal death of his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, not only marks a personal tragedy but serves as a stark reminder of an ongoing struggle with domestic violence in the nation.

Oshi Saxena
New Update

Kuandyk Bishimbayev. (Photo: Government website)

Amidst the vast expanses of Kazakhstan, a heart-wrenching tragedy has recently unfolded that goes beyond personal grief, exposing a grave societal issue. Saltanat Nukenova's death, allegedly at the hands of her husband, former Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev, is more than a personal tragedy; it is a haunting manifestation of a systemic problem. This incident brings to light not only the country's failure to criminalize domestic violence but also the alarming trend of leaders in power perpetuating a culture of abuse against their own spouses.


On November 9, Saltanat Nukenova's life came to a tragic end. She was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Kuandyk Bishimbayev. The former minister's meteoric rise was cut short by a corruption scandal in 2018, but the shadows of his actions extended far beyond politics. Video surveillance revealed a savage beating at the closed restaurant, owned by the couple. Bishimbayev's attempts to cover up the crime only deepened the tragedy. Kuandyk Bishimbayev is accused of repeatedly beating his wife.

A Culture of Silence

The aftermath exposed Bishimbayev's attempts to cover up the incident, showcasing a deeply ingrained culture of silence and impunity. Calls to his brother to clear the restaurant, delete CCTV footage, and carry Nukenova's phone to create a false alibi paint a disturbing picture of a system that allows such actions to persist.

Saltanat's story is not an isolated case but a poignant example of the pervasive issue of domestic violence in Kazakhstan. Despite the media storm surrounding her husband's public profile, the incident highlights the deeper, often ignored stories of women facing abuse and violence at the hands of their partners. Kazakhstan's legal framework, which does not classify domestic violence as a standalone criminal offence, leaves women vulnerable and without adequate protection.

A petition signed by 150,000 citizens emphasizes the urgent need for legal reform. Lawmakers, including Deputy Zhuldyz Suleimenova, are proposing comprehensive measures, not just partial criminalization, to combat all forms of violence against women and children.

Leadership's Complicity


The fact that a former minister, a figure of authority, is implicated in such a heinous crime emphasizes the lack of seriousness given to the issue of domestic violence by those in power. The country's laws, police, and judiciary are shown to be inadequate in protecting women against family violence. Saltanat's death serves as a tragic reminder that even women married to influential figures are not spared from the horrors of domestic abuse.

A disturbing aspect of this crisis is the lack of awareness among women, who often perceive beatings as a twisted sign of love. The urgent need for comprehensive awareness campaigns is evident to break the cycle of acceptance and encourage women to recognize abuse for what it is—a crime. The absence of equal rights compounds the issue, further perpetuating a culture of violence against women.

Crisis in Numbers

The statistics surrounding domestic violence in Kazakhstan are staggering. Over the past year, local media has reported over 100 cases of severe domestic violence resulting in the deaths of women. In 2022 alone, police received over 115,000 calls reporting domestic violence, reflecting a drop from the spike during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. The Interior Ministry reveals an annual influx of over 100,000 domestic violence complaints, with 93 women killed in domestic violence-related homicides in the first 10 months of 2022 alone.

Legal Shortcomings

Under the current laws, including the 2009 law on the prevention of domestic violence, domestic violence is not recognized as a standalone criminal offence. Previous attempts to strengthen protections, such as the 2020 draft law on combating domestic violence, faced setbacks, leaving survivors to fend for themselves.


Reports suggest that in cases of spousal assault, the police often limit themselves to issuing warnings, contributing to a culture of silence. Astonishingly, Kazakhstan removed domestic violence from the Criminal Code in 2017, downgrading it to administrative offences. Lawmakers are contemplating the "partial criminalization of repeated battery and light bodily harm," but activists argue that these measures fall short.

Khalida Azhigulova, the Almaty Children's Rights Commissioner, claimed that Kazakhstan is the only country in the world where "a concussion, and fractured ribs, limbs, and jaws" are considered minor injuries for which a judge need only give a written warning to the alleged perpetrator. 

Amantay Zharkynbek, an MP from the ruling Amanat party, reportedly stated in September that if a husband is found guilty of domestic violence and imprisoned for 15 days, wives should be held accountable for "provocation" and imprisoned for a comparable term.

The Legislative Landscape: A Ray of Hope?

As Kazakhstan grapples with this crisis, lawmakers have proposed new legislation to address domestic violence. A draft law on measures to prevent domestic violence, along with amendments to administrative and criminal law provisions, is under consideration. However, the details remain undisclosed, leaving uncertainty about the inclusion of domestic violence as a standalone offence.

The critical question lingers: will these measures be enough to break the cycle of violence that has claimed over 100 women's lives since early 2022?


Exposing the Unseen: UN Exhibition and International Recognition

The plight of Kazakh women, beaten by their own sons or married to their rapists, took centre stage in a UN exhibition in May 2022. This initiative, praised by President Tokayev, sheds light on the often concealed truth of domestic violence. The international community applauds Kazakhstan's steps to promote women's rights, yet the battle against domestic violence remains a significant challenge.

A Call for Urgent Action

As Kazakhstan initiates measures during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the nation must recognize the urgency of the situation. Lawmakers must ensure that the proposed legislation provides comprehensive protection for women, criminalizing domestic violence as a standalone offence. The government's commitment to systemic measures, as instructed by President Tokayev, must translate into tangible actions that protect women from domestic tyrants. The Mazhilis' proposals for individual preventive measures based on media reports and compulsory medical assistance are positive steps, but the true test lies in their effective implementation.

Views expressed are the author's own.

Domestic Violence Domestic Abuse Kazakhstan Domestic Violence