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Kazakh Authorities Free Director Held Over Labor Deaths


Theater director and activist Bolat Atabaev in Almaty on July 4, shortly after he was freed as a "witness."
Theater director and activist Bolat Atabaev in Almaty on July 4, shortly after he was freed as a "witness."
Pro-reform Kazakh theater director Bolat Atabaev has been released from Aktau prison where he was being held over charges in connection with unrest last year over a stubborn labor dispute.

Atabaev had been detained on June 15 and charged with "inciting social hatred" in connection with last year's protests by striking oil workers in the western city of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead during clashes with police in mid-December.

Atabaev was released on 3 July and told that his status has been changed from "accused" to "witness" as the legal fallout continued.

International rights watchdog Amnesty International two weeks ago declared Atabaev a "prisoner of conscience."

Atabaev said he had refused to sign a statement in custody in which he "repented" for his actions and which suggested his involvement with opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov, who is in custody on criminal charges that he instigated conflict in Zhanaozen.

"I said, 'No way.' According to their text, it was Kozlov who sent me to Zhanaozen and instructed me on how to act," Atabaev told reporters the day after his release. He added that a friend who helped him in discussions with authorities, film director Yemek Tursynov, suggested that he write, "I am sorry that the bloodshed happened."

"[So] I just wrote that down," Atabaev said.

At the same press conference, Tursynov said the case showed that "it is possible to build a normal dialogue with any law-enforcement agencies" in Kazakhstan.

In March, Atabaev premiered a play that indirectly addressed the Zhanaozen events.

Atabaev is scheduled in August to receive Germany's Goethe Medal, an official decoration honoring non-Germans, for his contribution to cooperation between the German and Kazakh theaters.
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