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Aron Atabek

Atabek has been in prison since 2007 and has spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement.

Aron Atabek is a poet, journalist and social activist. He has written several books of poetry and prose inspired by Tengriist spirituality and was the founder, in 1992, of the monthly newspaper Khak (The Truth). Atabek was awarded the literary “Almas Kylysh” prize in 2004 and the Freedom to Create “imprisoned” prize in 2010.

Atabek has been in prison since 2007 and has spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement. In December 2012, following the online publication of The Heart of Eurasia, a critique of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s regime (written in prison by Atabek and smuggled out for publication), the poet was sentenced to spend two years in solitary confinement at a high security prison in Arkalyk. Whilst in solitary detention, Atabek was kept in extremely harsh conditions: he was denied access to natural light, communication with other prisoners, writing materials and telephone calls; family visits were severely restricted, resulting in only one successful visit between 2010 and the current date; he was kept under constant video surveillance.

PEN centres campaigned vigorously to have Atabek released from solitary confinement and moved to a prison within reasonable visiting distance for his family. In early October 2013, Atabek’s family received an anonymous telephone call informing them that the poet was to be transferred from Arkalyk to Karazhal Prison in the Kargandy region (over 1,000km from his family). The authorities refused to confirm or deny this news and Atabek’s family knew nothing of the poet’s whereabouts until several weeks later when his location was confirmed by a local human rights organisation. Askar Aidarkhan (Atabek’s son) has told PEN that communications with his father are still very restricted.

Atabek’s solitary confinement and the harsh conditions in which he has been held qualify as a cruel and inhuman punishment that violates the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment under international human rights standards and runs contrary to the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. By denying Atabek access to visits from his family and to regular correspondence with them, Kazakhstan is also violating the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

PEN has been working with Atabek’s son and a small group of translators to bring public attention to Atabek’s poems, and therefore his case.

My Throat Will Die – by Aron Atabek

My throat, unable to speak, will die
For the sounds of my homeland.
My ancestors’ patter will vanish
Like water into sand.
I am a storyteller of immortality
In Semitic and Etruscan tongues;
I am the dust of Turkic dialects
Writing in Russian.
Many lives’ twisted fates
Are lost inside me, mourning,
And I myself am a naked tangle of nerves Pulsating with verses.

Translated by Niall McDevitt and Alfia Nakipbekova and published in the literary magazine, Ambit. http://www.ambitmagazine.co.uk/issues/issue-214/my-throat-will-die-aron-atabek-ambit-action-with-pen/

Take Action

Please call for Aron Atabek to be moved to a prison within reasonable visiting distance for his family and for him to be allowed regular visits, telephone calls and letters from his loved ones. Write to the Kazakh government, your ambassador to Kazakhstan, and (if relevant) your Member of the European Parliament:


President of Kazakhstan
President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President’s Office
010000 Astana
Fax: +7 7172 559338

Minister of Internal Affairs
Kalmukhanbet Kassymov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Tauelsizdik Avenue, 1
010000 Astana
Republik of Kazakhstan
Email: Kense@mvd.kz
(Please copy your letters to the President and Minister of Internal Affairs to the Kazakh ambassador to your country)

You can find your ambassador to Kazakhstan here.
You can find your MEP here.