Aron Atabek is a Kazakh poet who was sentenced to 18 years of forced labor in 2007 for participating in protests against the demolition of a shantytown in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty. As a poet he is well-known for giving representation to the country’s cultural minorities while criticizing President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s President since 1989. An excerpt from his poem, “My Throat Will Die” is below:
My father was a slave of the Soviet State / in the gold mines of Kolyma / and my destiny, too, is repeating this pattern / and the brutality of Kolyma.
For two years from 2010 to 2012 Atabek had been kept in solitary confinement under 24-hour surveillance, and whenever he had left his cell for exercise he had done so blindfolded, so as to be unable to see his fellow prisoners. Since 2012 he has returned to performing forced labor.
Though Aron Atabek has been returned to the general prison population, he has been transferred to Karazhal Prison in the Karagandy region of Kazakhstan, over 1,000 miles from his family. He is expected to remain there until 2025.