RAPID ACTION NETWORK Appeal | August 7th, 2013

By | August 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm | No comments | Campaigns | Tags: ,

Kazakh Poet Aron Atabek: A Prison Within a Prison

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 has previously spent two years in solitary confinement for refusing to wear a prison uniform. To date, one third of his incarceration 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 International’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is campaigning for Aron Atabek to be released from solitary confinement and returned to a prison within a reasonable distance from his family. With this aim in mind, we are asking PEN members and other interested parties to lobby their respective ambassadors to Kazakhstan, Members of the European Parliament (where applicable), and the relevant Kazakh authorities. We also encourage PEN members to write to Atabek in prison and to draw attention to his situation by writing articles and contacting their national or local media.

Aron Atabek

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. The text was smuggled out of prison and published on the Internet in 2012. When it was discovered by 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 are 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 authore 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 vocal critic of the president.

Atabek suffers from heart disease and sciatica; he also 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.

To read more about Aron Atabek, see this article by the Writers in Prison Committee’s Cathal Sheerin 

To read a poem that Atabek has written whilst in prison, please see here.

Take Action
Write to President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Ministry for Internal Affairs (responsible for prisons in Kazakhstan):

  • 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.


Write letters of support to Aron Atabek in prison, and to his family.

  • His son assures PEN International that the knowledge that people are concerned over his treatment in prison provides the poet with great psychological support.


Raise Aron Atabek’s case with your ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Write articles for your websites about Aron Atabek and share them on social media.
Write articles or letters for your local and national media outlets about Aron Atabek’s case.

Please send appeals to: 
President of Kazakhstan
President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President’s Office, 010000 Astana
Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: +7 7172 559338

Minister of Internal Affairs
Kalmukhanbet Kassymov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Tauelsizdik Avenue, 1 010000
Republic of Kazakhstan
Email: Kense@mvd.kz

Ambassador to Canada
His Excellency Ambassador Konstantin V. Zhigalov
Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Canada
150 Metcalfe Street Suite 1603-1604
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1P1

(Please copy your letters to the President and Minister of Internal Affairs to the Kazakh ambassador to your country)

Atabek’s prison address
Russian text:
Едигеев Арон (Арон Атабек)
Учр. УК 161/12, г. Аркалык, пос. Северный, 110300,
Костанайская обл.
Республика Казахстан

English text:
Edigeev Aron (Aron Atabek)
Prison UK 161/12, City Arkalyk,
Severnyi Settlement,
zip-code: 110300,
Kostanayskaya Oblast,
Republic of Kazakhstan

Family’s address
Russian text:
ул. Терёхина 32, кв.3, 050037, Алматы, Казахстан.
Names: Жайнагуль Айдархан, Аскар Айдархан, Айдана Айдархан.

English text:
Terekhina str. 32, app.3, zip-code: 050037, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Names: Zhainagul Aidarkhan, Askar Aidarkhan, Aidana Aidarkhan.

Email address for Atabek’s son
Askar Aidarkhan: askaraidarkhan@gmail.com

Photo credit: Radio Free Europe; the image of Aron Atabek used for this campaign was created by the artist Maxine Young.

© PEN Canada 2019 · 401 Richmond St. W., Suite 258, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3A8 · Phone: 416 703 8448
· Charitable Business Number 88916 2541 RR0001