A Kazakh court ordered the release of a dissident poet who has been in prison for 14 years and recently hospitalized for unspecified health problems.
The order freeing Aron Atabek, 68, was issued by the Pavlodar City Court on October 1.
After his release, Atabek flew to Almaty where dozens of supporters gathered to greet him at the airport. His daughter told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service that the poet was in poor health.
Atabek, 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, is said to be suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Yelena Semyonova, a rights activist, said on September 28 that Atabek had been hospitalized several days earlier.
Atabek has maintained his innocence ever since his arrest in 2006.
In 2012, he rejected a government pardon offer that would have required him to admit guilt.
For years, Kazakh and international rights organizations have demanded the government release the poet.
Rights groups say he has been 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.
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 denied.