The Kazakh poet Aron Atabek has been in prison since 2007. He has been placed in solitary confinement for two years as punishment for writing a book that criticises President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and is due for return to the general prison population at the end of 2014. He previously spent two years in solitary confinement for refusing to wear a prison uniform: in fact, one third of his incarceration so far has been spent in isolation. Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture have concluded that prolonged solitary confinement may amount to torture.
PEN is urging our members and supporters across the globe to lobby ambassadors to Kazakhstan, Members of the European Parliament (where applicable), and the Kazakh authorities, demanding that Aron Atabek be released from solitary confinement and returned to a prison within reasonable visiting distance for his family. We are also encouraging members to write directly to Atabek in prison, and to highlight his situation by writing articles and contacting their national or local media. For more details please see below.
A Prison within a Prison
The 60-year old poet, Aron Atabek, is currently imprisoned in what has been described as one of Kazakhstan’s harshest jails. He has been in solitary confinement since December 2012 and will continue to stay there until the end of 2014: this is his punishment for writing The Heart of Eurasia, a blunt critique of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his government.
Atabek wrote this mixture of poetry and prose whilst in jail after conviction of alleged offences relating to a 2006 clash between protesters and police that took place during the attempted demolition of a shanty town (see below). The text was smuggled out of prison and published on the internet in 2012. When it was discovered by the authorities, Atabek was charged with violating prison rules and was transferred to a maximum security penitentiary in the City of Arkalyk, over 1,650km away from his family in Almaty, making it difficult for them to visit him.
The conditions in which Atabek is being held are extremely harsh. His son told PEN International that Atabek has not been allowed a family visit since 2010. Atabek has described the conditions of his incarceration in the two letters that his family has received since he was moved to solitary confinement. He says that he is being kept under 24-hour video surveillance and that access to writing materials, natural light, phone calls and letters from his family is denied. Every day – handcuffed and hooded – he is taken for a brief walk, during which communication with other prisoners is strictly prohibited.
This is Atabek’s second period in solitary confinement; he spent two years (from 2010 to 2012) in exactly the same conditions as punishment for refusing to wear a prison uniform. He spoke about this previous stay in solitary confinement during a rare telephone interview conducted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shortly before he was transferred to Arkalyk.
Atabek describes his incarceration as a ‘prison within a prison,’ and has spent one third of his time in prison so far in isolation.
Atabek has been involved in publishing, writing and political activism since the mid-1980s. He is the founder of two newspapers and author of nine books. For more than two decades his writing and activism have focused on political and social issues, and on the corruption that he believes has kept President Nazarbayev in power for the last 23 years. He is a blunt and very vocal critic of the president.
Atabek suffers from heart disease and sciatica; he received an eye injury following an alleged attack by another prisoner before his transfer to solitary confinement. Atabek’s son told PEN that he fears that his father is not receiving adequate treatment for his injuries and ailments in prison.
PEN regards Atabek’s prolonged stay in solitary confinement, the harsh conditions in which he is being kept, the blocking of communications between the poet and his family, and his lack of access to writing materials, as a cruel and inhuman punishment that violates the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. We call for him to be released from solitary confinement and returned to a prison within reasonable visiting distance for his family immediately.
- For more on Aron Atabek, read this article by the Writers in Prison Committee’s Cathal Sheerin.
- To read a poem that Atabek has written whilst in prison, please visit International Times.
- For more information on human rights violations and solitary confinement in Kazakhstan, please visit the PEN International website.
- Send messages of support directly to Aron Atabek in prison and to his family – please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request the addresses. Atabek’s son has assured PEN that the knowledge that people are concerned by his father’s treatment in prison provides the poet with great psychological support.
- Write articles or letters for your local and national media, or for your own blog, about Aron Atabek’s case.
- Share details of Atabek’s case via social media.
- Send letters of appeal
– Protesting the continued and prolonged detention in solitary confinement of the poet Aron Atabek, the harsh conditions in which he is being kept, and his lack of access to writing materials;
– Calling for him to be allowed to associate with other prisoners and to be transferred to a prison within reasonable travelling distance for his family.President of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev President’s Office, 010000 Astana Kazakhstan 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 also send copies of your letters to the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the UK, the British Embassy in Kazakhstan, and to your MEP:HE Mr Kairat Abusseitov The Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan 125 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5EA Email: email@example.com Dr Carolyn Browne British Embassy Astana 62, Kosmonavtov Street
Renco Building 6 Floor
You can find your MEP here.
You can write directly to to the Minister of Internal Affairs Kalmukhanbet Kassymov authorities using the form below. A sample letter is provided, but we would highly recommend personalising your appeal.
[ecampaign ‘to=Kense@mvd.kz‘ subject=”Release poet Aron Atabek from solitary confinement”]
I am writing to you as a supporter of English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers, on behalf of imprisoned poet Aron Atabek.
According to PEN’s information, poet Aron Atabek is currently being held in solitary confinement in a maximum security penitentiary more than 1,650km away from his family, as punishment for writing a book that criticises President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Atabek, who has been imprisoned since 2007, is not due for return to the general prison population until the end of 2014.
The conditions in which Atabek is being held are understood to be extremely harsh. He has reportedly not been allowed a family visit since 2010. He is now being kept under 24-hour video surveillance, whilst access to writing materials, natural light, phone calls and letters from his family are denied. Every day – handcuffed and hooded – he is taken for a brief walk, during which communication with other prisoners is strictly prohibited. Furthermore Atabek suffers from heart disease and sciatica and there are widespread concerns that he is not receiving adequate treatment in prison.
I strongly protest the detention of Aron Atabek, and am writing to respectfully call for his immediate release from solitary confinement. I also urge the authorities to ensure that he be allowed to associate with other prisoners, and that he is transferred to a prison within reasonable travelling distance for his family.
I would welcome your comments on my appeal.