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This World Poetry Day Help Free Imprisoned Kazakh Poet, Aron Atabek

Monday 19 March 2018 - 7:25pm

Sahar Halaimzai
Communications Manager
PEN International
+44 (0)20 7405 0338

Aron Atabek

Aron Atabek is a prominent Kazakh poet, journalist and dissident. He has been in prison for over 10 years, including frequent periods in punitive confinement in extremely harsh conditions. This includes severe restrictions on family visits and telephone calls, and denial of access to natural light, communication with other prisoners and writing materials.

In 2007, Atabek was convicted of organising mass disorder in politically motivated proceedings related to a 2006 protest against the demolition of a shantytown, which resulted in the death of a police officer. He was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. Atabek has always maintained his innocence and has rejected a government pardon premised on admitting his guilt.

In 2012, Atabek published The Heart of Eurasia, a critique of President Nazarbayev’s regime, after the manuscript was smuggled out of prison. Subsequently, he was sentenced to two years in solitary confinement. In October 2013, his family was told in an anonymous phone call that he would be transferred to another prison, more than 1,000 km away from his family. The authorities refused to confirm or deny this news and for several weeks his family remained in the dark about his whereabouts, until it was confirmed by a local human rights organisation.

In his rare communications with the outside world, Atabek has described the conditions of his solitary confinement as ‘a prison within a prison’ and ‘a complete vacuum’. The prolonged bouts of solitary confinement by themselves constitute cruel and inhuman punishment, prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by which Kazakhstan is bound. In denying access to family visits and regular correspondence with them, Kazakhstan is also violating the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules).

Atabek 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 Artist prize in 2010. He studied linguistics and Mongol and Turkic culture at universities in Kazakhstan and Russia and prior to his imprisonment lectured widely on linguistics and local history and culture, as well as serving on the State Committee for Cinematography.

Some of Atabek’s poetry has been translated into English.

Take action

  • Call for the immediate and unconditional release of Aron Atabek and, in the meantime, for him to be moved to a prison within visiting distance of his family and to be allowed regular visits, telephone calls, correspondence, and access to writing materials.

Please write to President Nazarbayev, copying in the Kazakh diplomatic representative to your country, and your own Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  For writers in the European Union, please also write to your Member of the European Parliament, asking them to raise the case in the European Parliament.

Write to:

President of Kazakhstan
President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President’s Office
010000 Astana

Publicity & social media PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Aron Atabek
  • Suggested tweet: #Kazakhstan -  Free poet Aron Atabek immediately & unconditionally #WorldPoetryDay @pen_int (add link to action paper)
  • Suggested tweet:  On #WorldPoetryDay 2018 call on # Kazakhstan to free poet Aron Atabek @pen_int (add link to action paper).

Please send appeals immediately.


Elect Aron Atabek as an honorary member of your Centre and by doing so provide long- term support and advocacy for her and her family. For details of the International PEN Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack  (Part V, pp 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Centre is networked with others working on the case.

For further details please contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | email: