World Poetry Day: support imprisoned poet 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.

– ‘My Throat Will Die’, translated by Alfia Nakipbekova and Niall McDevitt

Aron Atabek is a poet, journalist and social activist. He has written several books of poetry and prose inspired by Tengriist spirituality in 1992 founded 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.

Atabek was arrested in July 2006 and charged with organising mass disorder, complicity in hostage-taking, and complicity in the murder of a police officer. He denied all charges against him.  In October 2007 he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. After the conviction, and shortly before a hearing of the case at the Supreme Court, the two main witnesses for the prosecution withdrew their testimony. They claimed that they had been tortured and blackmailed into testifying against Atabek. The Supreme Court declined their new testimony as unsubstantiated. In December 2015, a court in Astana dismissed Atabek’s appeal against his sentence.

On 10 March 2016, members of the European Parliament met to discuss freedom of expression in Kazakhstan. MEPs condemned the ‘disrespect and violation of prisoners’ rights’, specifically naming Aron Atabek and another writer of grave concern to PEN, Vladimir Kozlov, and demanded that they receive ‘immediate access to necessary medical treatment and are allowed regular visits, including by family members, legal representatives and representatives of human rights and prisoners’ rights organisations’.

For further details, please visit the PEN International website.


  • Send messages of support to Aron Atabek – email for further details
  • Share details of his case and examples of his writing with friends and colleagues and on social media. A collection of his work is now available in English translation – for more details.
  • Write to the Kazakh authorities raising concerns for Aron Atabek – more details below.

Please send appeals:

  • Demanding that Aron Atabek is 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;
  • Calling for him to be taken out of solitary confinement and allowed to interact with others prisoners.

Send appeals to:

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

Minister of Internal Affairs
Kassymov Kalmukhanbet Kassymov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Tauelsizdik Avenue, 1
010000 Astana
Republik of Kazakhstan
(Please copy your letters to the President and Minister of Internal Affairs to the Kazakh ambassador to your country and to your own Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

You can find your ambassador to Kazakhstan here.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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