Updated May 4th, 2024 at 18:49 IST

How an Astrologist Became a Victim of Domestic Violence in Kazakhstan

The trial of Kazakhstan's former economy minister, in the death of his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, has touched a nerve in the Central Asian country.

Reported by: Digital Desk
Ex Kazakh Minister Beats His Wife To Death | Image:X

The high-profile murder trial of Kazakhstan's former economy minister and businessman Kuandyk Bishimbayev has gripped the country, sparking conversations about domestic abuse.  A brutal surveillance footage, played in the court, showed him viciously punching and kicking his wife Saltanat Nukenova in a restaurant, which is owned by his family, before dragging her by the hair to a separate room, where there were no cameras. Hours after the footage was recorded, she died of brain trauma.

Who was Saltanat Nukenova?

Saltanat Nukenova, 31, was an astrologist, and before she married Bishimbayev, she was making around three million tenge (6,780 USD) per month, as per an English daily. She was found dead on November 9 last year in a restaurant owned by one of her husband's relatives. She died from brain trauma, a coroner’s report revealed. One of her nasal bones was broken and she had several bruises on her face, head, arms and hands, reported Reuters.

Despite Nukenova's efforts to flee, such as seeking sanctuary in a restroom, Bishimbayev's acts of violence persisted without interruption. An ambulance arrived 12 hours later and Nukenova was declared dead at the scene.


Her husband, Bishimbayev, who was charged with torturing and killing her, for weeks maintained his innocence but admitted Wednesday in court that he had beaten her and “unintentionally” caused her death.

The heinous murder has touched a nerve in the Central Asian country. Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions calling for harsher penalties for domestic violence. Bishimbayev, who was charged with her murder, for weeks maintained his innocence but admitted Wednesday in court that he had beaten her and “unintentionally” caused her death.


Throughout their relationship, which spanned over a year, Nukenova's friends and family said that she had suffered prolonged physical and mental abuse inflicted by Bishimbayev. Despite her attempts to leave him on multiple occasions, she failed.

They often noticed bruises and rope marks on her neck, and recalled how Bishimbayev prohibited her from interacting with them. They mentioned his jealousy and how he monitored the contents of her phone.


Aitbek Amangeldy, Nukenova’s elder brother and a key prosecution witness, told that he had no doubt his sister’s tragic fate has shifted attitudes about domestic violence. “It changes people’s minds when they see directly what it looks like when a person is tortured,” Amangeldy said.

Protection for those at risk of domestic violence

Days after Nukenova's death, her relatives launched an online petition urging authorities to pass “Saltanat's Law” to bolster protection for those at risk of domestic violence. It quickly got over 150,000 signatures.

As Bishimbayev’s trial began, more than 5,000 Kazakhs wrote senators urging tougher laws on abuse, Kazakh media said.


Women's rights advocate Aigerim Kussainkyzy said Bishimbayev’s trial has led to “a collective awakening” among politicians and ordinary citizens.

Bishimbayev’s trial

Meanwhile, Bishimbayev’s trial continues to spark controversy. Police are investigating telephone threats reported by Judge Ayzhan Kulbayeva after she disallowed forensic evidence from defense lawyers alleging Nukenova’s death could have been caused by a preexisting condition.

As closing arguments approach, debate rages in Kazakhstan over its justice system and women's rights, with many believing the trial already has changed the country forever


Published May 4th, 2024 at 18:49 IST