Released After 18 Years In Prison, Dissident Kazakh Poet Dies After COVID-19 Hospitalization

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Sixty-eight-year-old dissident poet Aron Atabek has died while being treated in a Kazakh hospital for COVID-19, one month after his release from a long prison term.

Atabek’s sister Razia Nutysheva told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service that her brother died in an intensive care unit on November 24.

Atabek (aka Edigeev) was released in early October after serving most of an 18-year prison sentence stemming from a 2007 conviction for helping organize protests that resulted in the death of a police officer.

Atabek had maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2006.

He rejected a government pardon offer in 2012 that would have required him to admit guilt.

His release last month from a prison in Kazakhstan’s northern region of Pavlodar came amid persistent concerns over his health. Relatives and friends say he suffered from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

For years, Kazakh and international rights organizations asserted his innocence and demanded that the government release the poet. They said Atabek was tortured in prison, with guards splashing water with high concentrations of chlorine on the floor of his cell to damage his health.

In September, a photograph taken by activists who visited him in prison appeared to show Atabek exhausted and in poor health. The photograph caused a public outcry and added pressure on officials to release him.

In December 2012, Atabek was transferred to solitary confinement after he wrote an article critical of then-President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his government, and the article was published online.

In 2014, Atabek’s relatives accused prison guards of breaking his leg, a charge that authorities denied.

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