Former Kazakh minister gets 24 years in prison for murdering wife

Kazakhstan's former Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev attends a court hearing in Astana

ASTANA (Reuters) -A former economy minister of Kazakhstan was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Monday for murdering his wife following a widely watched trial that some saw as a litmus test of the president's promise to strengthen women's rights.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev, 44, was found guilty of torture and murder by the court.

His trial, which has been broadcast live over the past seven weeks, has been widely regarded as an attempt by the authorities to send a message that members of the elite are no longer above the law.

CCTV footage played during the trial showed Bishimbayev repeatedly punching and kicking his wife, 31-year-old Saltanat Nukenova, and dragging her by her hair, near-naked, into a room where she later died.

Videos were also found on Bishimbayev's mobile phone in which he insulted and humiliated the visibly bruised and bloodied Nukenova over the final hours before she lost consciousness in the morning of Nov. 9, 2023.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who replaced veteran Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev five years ago, has said he wants to build a fairer society including improved rights for women.

The case has helped rally public support behind a law criminalising domestic violence, which parliament passed last month. Government data show that one in six women in Kazakhstan has experienced violence by a male partner.

During the trial, Bishimbayev admitted to beating his wife, but said some of her injuries were self-inflicted. He denied torturing or planning to murder her.

He served as the oil-rich nation's economy minister from May-December 2016. He was convicted of bribery in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but walked free after less than three years thanks to an amnesty and parole.

(Reporting by Tamara Vaal in Astana; Writing by Lucy Papachristou in London; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Andrew Heavens)