PEN SA Calls for the Charges Against Kazakh PEN Club President to be Dropped

12 Dec 2016
PEN SA Calls for the Charges Against Kazakh PEN Club President to be Dropped

Novelist, essayist and translator Bigeldy Gabdullin, aged 61, the current President of the Kazakh PEN Club, was arrested on 15 November 2016 in connection with extortion charges. Gabdullin attracted state attention in his work as a journalist in the 1990s when he wrote articles criticising Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In 2001, following harassment and several defamation cases brought against him, he fled for the United States. Read more about the case and find out what you can do to help on PEN International’s website.

PEN South Africa sent the below letter to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev, Prosecutor General Zhakip Assanov and Minister of Internal Affairs Kalmukhanbet Kassymov. Copies of the letters were sent to Human Rights Commissioner Askar Shakirov and to the Embassy of Republic of Kazakhstan in South Africa.

As the Executive Board of PEN South Africa, we wish to express our deep concern about the arrest of Kazakh PEN Club president Bigeldy Gabdullin and urge you to drop the charges of extortion against him. We call for his immediate release unless clear evidence of a criminal offence is made available and he is charged and tried promptly and fairly in accordance with international fair trial standards.

On 15 November 2016, Gabdullin was arrested under Article 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on investigative detention and is held in the Temporary Detention Facility of the Department of Internal Affairs in the capital Astana. In a statement released by Kazakhstan’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, it alleged that Bigeldy Gabdullin used his positions as editor-in-chief of the Central Asia Monitor and director of Radiotochka to defame the business reputations of public officials and extort 10 million tenge (US$ 28,939). PEN South Africa believes that Gabdullin is being prosecuted for exercising his right to freedom of expression and writing critically about the government.

Gadbdullin is currently held under a two-month pre-trial detention order and his lawyer has appealed against the detention order. The appeal was rejected on 24 November 2016. PEN South Africa is concerned that the longer Gabdullin remains in prison the higher the chance of him becoming a victim of the type of torture that is meted out against detainees and prisoners in Kazakhstan. We therefore urge you to ensure that Bigeldy Gabdullin is protected from torture or other ill-treatment while held in detention.

We call on you not to persecute artists like Gabdullin that are simply practising freedom of expression.

Yours sincerely

Margie Orford
President PEN South Africa

Mandla Langa
Executive Vice-President

Raymond Louw
Vice President