Dissident Kazakh Poet Recently Released From Prison Placed In Intensive Care At Hospital

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Dissident Kazakh poet Aron Atabek, who was recently released from prison after spending 15 years behind bars on charges he denied, has been hospitalized and is currently in an intensive care unit.

Atabek's sister, Razia Nutysheva, told RFE/RL on October 20 that her brother was hospitalized over the weekend after his condition worsened.

"His current state of health is worrisome. He is unable to eat. The illness is progressing. After his release from prison, he refused to stay in a medical institution and we treated him at home for some time, but his health state worsened dramatically in recent days," Nutysheva said, adding that Atabek is currently connected to a lung ventilation system. She did not provide any other details and did not say whether Atabek has COVID-19.

Atabek (aka Edigeev), who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2007 after being convicted of helping organize protests that resulted in the death of a police officer, has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2006.

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

He was released from a prison in Kazakhstan’s northern region of Pavlodar in early October amid long-standing concerns over his health. Relatives and friends say he suffers from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

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

Last month, 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 put 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, his relatives accused prison guards of breaking his leg, which authorities have denied.