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Sergei Sherementyev said he was assaulted by three individuals who were transported to the site by ex-lawmaker Pyotr Fink.

A Russian environmental activist who had protested against coal-mining projects in the Siberian region of Kemerovo says he was attacked and beaten by unidentified men in the presence of a former local lawmaker.

Sergei Sherementyev said on November 24 that he was assaulted near the town of Apanas by three individuals who were transported to the site by Pyotr Fink, a former deputy in the local legislative assembly.

According to Sherementyev, Fink proposed to him that they go to a nearby library "for a talk," but the activist refused, after which three men who were accompanying Fink attacked the activist, shouting that they "brought greetings from Gagik Suakasyan," the owner of coal mines in the area.

One of the attackers was carrying a pistol, he said.

Fink told RFE/RL he had nothing to do with the attackers and that he would sue Sherementyev for libel.

He claimed he had given the three men involved in the violence a ride because their car was broken and that he had only “witnessed the brawl.”

Sherementyev insisted that the assault is linked to his opposition to coal-mining operations near Apanas and the town of Alekseyevka. According to Sherementyev, the land where the coal mines are located is co-owned by a son of a former top official of the regional prosecutor's office.

In April, journalist Natalya Zubkova from Kiselyovsk, another town in the Kemerovo region, fled Russia for an unspecified country after she was assaulted by unknown attackers.

Zubkova said at the time that the attack was retaliation by local government officials for her articles criticizing the authorities for the "illegal widening of coal-mining territories" in the region.

Aron Atabek's release from prison came amid persistent concerns over his health. Relatives and friends say he suffered from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

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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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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