German Filmmaker Volker Schlondorff Calls For Release of Kazakh Director

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Kazakh police arrested Bolat Atabayev on Friday on charges of inciting social unrest.

COLOGNE, Germany – Oscar-winning German film maker Volker Schlondorff has called for the immediate release of Kazakh director Bolat Atabayev.

Kazakh authorities arrested the famed writer and theater director, who co-wrote the screenplay for Schlondorff’s Ulzan (2007) on Friday. He was taken into custody on charges of allegedly inciting social unrest. The arrests are linked to deadly riots that took place in the Kazakh oil town of Zhanaozen late last year. At least 16 people died and more than 100 were injured in clashes on Dec. 16, 2011 in clashes between striking oil workers and the police. The workers have been on strike since May 2011, demanding better pay and conditions from the state-owned oil company.

In an open letter to the judge in the case, Nariman Begaliev, Schlondorff wrote of meeting Atabayev during the production of Ulzhan at the Kazakh Film Studio. In addition to co-authoring the screenplay for the film, Atabayev “helped me look for actors in Almaty and the whole republic,” Schlondorff wrote.  He added that he found it “completely inconceivable” that Atabeyev was involved in any form of political agitation and appealed to the judge to release him.

Atabayev is a famed theater director in Kazakhstan and, as co-founder of the German Theatre in the main Kazakh city of Almaty, Atabayev was set to receive a Goethe Medal in Germany this August for outstanding services for the German language and international cultural relations.
Independent human rights group Article 19 said authorities arrested both Atabayev and the activist Zhanbolat Mamai on June 15. The official reason for the arrests were that neither man had appeared for questioning in May concerning allegations they had help incite the Zhanaozen riots.

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