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Kazakhstan - Where is the Imprisoned Poet Aron Atabek?

Thursday 24 October 2013 - 1:00am

24 October 2013

PEN International is deeply concerned by news that the poet and social activist Aron Atabek has been transferred from a high security prison in the city of Arkalyk to another – as yet unknown – prison.

In 2012, Atabek was sentenced to serve two years in solitary confinement in Arkalyk Prison following the publication of his book, The Heart of Eurasia, a work that is highly critical of the Kazakh government. Since August 2013, PEN International has been campaigning for Atabak to be removed from solitary confinement and placed in a prison within reasonable visiting distance of his family.

In early October 2013, Atabek’s family received an anonymous telephone call informing them that the poet was to be transferred to Karazhal Prison in the Kargandy region. The family say that they did not receive any communication from Atabek or from the prison authorities regarding this move.

Since receiving the anonymous telephone call, Atabek’s son has made several attempts to discover the whereabouts of his father. He has contacted the prison administration numerous times, asking for confirmation that Atabek is now being held in Karazhal Prison. However, on each occasion, the prison authorities have refused to give him this information.

We understand that the prison administration was recently contacted by a local Kazakh human rights organisation, and that is was confirmed that Atabek left Arkalyk Prison on 5 October 2013, but that details of his current whereabouts were withheld. Atabek’s family are very worried.

The United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted in 1955 by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, clearly states that every prisoner must have the right to inform his family at once of his imprisonment or transfer within the prison system. Kazakhstan has clearly violated this rule by denying Mr. Atabek the opportunity to inform his family of his transfer.

Today, a letter signed by Marian Botsford Fraser, the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, was sent to Kazakhstan’s Minister for Internal Affairs (responsible for prisons), demanding that Aron Atabek’s family be notified immediately of the exact location of the imprisoned poet.


• Write to the Minister of Internal Affairs, urging him to immediately release details of Aron Atabek’s whereabouts to his family.
• Raise these new and worrying developments in Aron Atabek’s case with your country’s ambassador to Kazakhstan.

For useful addresses, see below.


Since August 2013, a number of PEN Centres around the world have taken action on behalf of Aron Atabek. PEN Suisse Romand and PEN Netherlands have successfully lobbied their ambassadors in Kazakhstan; these ambassadors have agreed to raise Atabek’s case with the Kazakh government. Other centres that have lobbied their governments and/or written articles about Atabek’s case include:PEN American Center, PEN Austria, Belgian Dutch-speaking PEN, Czech PEN, PEN Canada, English PEN, PEN Kenya, German PEN, PEN Center USA, PEN Flanders and Sydney PEN.

In recent weeks, Atabek has written to PEN from his jail cell. Please see his poem dedicated to German PEN here:

Your efforts are very important to Atabek’s family. Please read his son’s letter to PEN members thanking them for their work on his father’s behalf:

The Writers in Prison Committee’s Cathal Sheerin wrote an article about Atabek for the Huffington Post:

Useful Addresses:

Minister of Internal Affairs
Kalmukhanbet Kassymov
Ministy of Internal Affairs
Tauelsizdik Avenue, 1
010000 Astana
Republic of Kazakhstan
Twitter: @MVD_RK

You can find your country’s embassy in Kazakhstan here:

Note to PEN Centres
Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Aron Atabek’s case.

For further details contact Cathal Sheerin at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER UK Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: