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Noted Kazakh Theater Director, Outspoken Opposition Figure Dies At 69

Bolat Atabaev
Bolat Atabaev

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Bolat Atabaev, a noted Kazakh theater director and outspoken critic of the Kazakh government, has died at the age of 69.

Activists and human rights groups in the Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, said on July 29 that Atabaev died of an unspecified medical condition in hospital.

Earlier in July, reports said that Atabaev had been hospitalized and placed in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Almaty.

Last year, one of Atabaev's legs was amputated in a hospital in Germany, where he lived in self-imposed exile since 2012. His relatives said at the time that the surgery was performed due to diabetes and kidney problems.

Shortly after the surgery, Atabaev returned to Kazakhstan.

Kazakh authorities arrested Atabaev and charged him with inciting social discord after he openly supported striking oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, where law enforcement opened fire at the strikers, killing at least 16 demonstrators in December 2011.

Amnesty International and human rights organizations in Kazakhstan designated him as a prisoner of conscience at the time.

Under pressure from international and domestic human rights organizations and theater directors from Germany, Atabaev was released in 2012 and left Kazakhstan for Germany, where he staged several performances with his Aqsarai theater.

One of the most known performances directed by Atabaev, Avalanche, was about people living in a village in the mountains in constant fear of an avalanche. But life in the village is disrupted by a protest, which leads the residents to lose their fear.

In August 2012, Germany's Goethe-Institut awarded Atabaev the Goethe Medal, a prize of the German government for noncitizens for artistic contributions.

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