Petersburg Truckers Say No to Plato
Special to the Russian Reader
November 27, 2015
On November 24, Petersburg truckers joined protests against the new levies imposed heavy tonnage cargo trucks known as the Plato payment system, which have sparked unprecedented work stoppages and other protests by Russian truckers nationwide.
Alexander Rastorguyev, leader of the TIGR (Association of Go-Getting Russian Citizens) movement, and Sergei Gulyayev, an ex-deputy of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, both known for their opposition politics, inspired local truckers to launch a “snail” protest convoy.
The truckers took off in two separate convoys on parallel streets, Moscow Highway and Sofia Street, at 11 a.m. Shortly afterwards, another group of trucks joined them, increasing the number of slowly moving trucks to three hundred.
The truckers held a spontaneous rally on Sofia Street, where Rastorguyev urged them to keep driving to the Smolny, Petersburg city hall, where the authorities would “listen to them.”
During the rally, a tire was set on fire, an obvious reference to the Euromaidan protests.
The truckers slowly moved onto the Petersburg Ring Road, paralyzing traffic in the streets. The convoy was led by a group of cars plastered with anti-Plato posters. Traffic police regularly stopped the drivers, although no one was detained.
While the truckers made their way to the Smolny, authorities negotiated with protest leaders. The authorities warned the trucks would paralyze the downtown and suggested that truckers choose six delegates to negotiate with a deputy governor in his office another part of the downtown.
The truckers, however, did not want to elect delegates. They wanted a meeting directly with authorities at the Smolny and as an entire group.
Around thirty truckers finally reached the gates to the Smolny, although they had to leave their trucks on the other side of the Neva River. They gathered around the entrance and waited for officials to come out and negotiate with them. They waited in vain.
They stood and talked among themselves for about an hour until police arrived. A police officer demanded they disperse and organize a legal rally instead. Claiming they had not “come for a revolution,” they decided to give the authorities a chance, promising to organize a snail convoy to Moscow if their demands were not fulfilled in the coming days.
All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel
Read my previous posts on the new Plato cargo haulage levy system and protests by Russian truckers:
Zarina Yunusova: “I will never forgive what was done to me”
Anora Sarkorova | BBC Russian Service, Dushanbe
November 27, 2015
Zarina Yunusova, mother of the five-month-old baby who died in Petersburg after he was forcibly removed from his parents by Russian police officers, has called on the Russian authorities and concerned Russian citizens to conduct an objective investigation into the causes of her child’s death and reconsider previous decisions in the case.
In addition, the young woman has appealed to the Tajik authorities, who, according to her, should be bolder in defending the interests of Tajikistani citizens.
After returning home and burying her son, Yunusova has gone back to her parents’ home in the remote mountain village of Kandak, in Obi-Garm, in the east of Tajikistan.
Relatives and friends of the young woman that it will thus be easier to survive the loss of the child and rid herself of the painful memories of what she has experienced over the last month and a half.
“I constantly rewind that accursed day in my mind. I remember how the authorities came to our place at six in the morning, how they took the child from me. I did not want to give him up. I fought back, I screamed, I cried, I begged, and I dragged me on the floor, but they removed the child anyway. I still remember holding him in my warms, feeling the warmth of his body, and seeing him smile at me. I will never forget it and never forgive those who did this to me,” says Yunusova.
Jail Cell, Fine, Deportation
When I met Yunusova at the gate of her house, I noticed that the quite emaciated young woman was limping a little. Her relatives explained that two of her toes were injured at the Petersburg police station where she and the child were taken.
“It happened when they were taking the child. While she was fighting for little Umarali, Zarina injured two toes. For some reason, the Russian Interior Ministry made public only video footage showing a female officer cradling the child, not the part where the child was removed. They should show the whole world how they did it,” says Nazar Boboyerov, a relative of Yunusova’s.
Five-month-old Umarali Nazarov died under mysterious circumstances in the early hours of October 14 after he was removed from his mother, 21-year-old Zarina Yunusova, detained for immigration violations, at a police station in Petersburg’s Admiralty District.
The woman was place in a temporary holding cell. The same day, the court fined Yunusova 5,000 rubles and ruled that the Tajik migrant should be expeled from Russia.
According to Yunusova’s relatives, she tried to find her son, but police did not give her the address of the medical center where the baby had been taken.
A day later, the parents were informed of Umarali Nazarov’s death.
Cause of Death
According to Petesburg Bureau of Forensic Medicine (BSME), the cause of five-month-old Umarali’s death was a generalized cytomegalovirus infection.
The child’s kin categorically disagree with the official finding. The parents have numerous medical documents from the clinic where the infant was periodically examined. They suggest that the boy was perfectly healthy.
Umarali was Rustam Nazarov and Zarina Yunusov’s firstborn chld. The young people had not met before their wedding. The bride was found on the advice of relatives.
As is typical in many Tajik families, a few months after the wedding festivities, Nazarov went to Russia to work, and later he was joined by his wife.
“We really wanted children. I joined my husband, got pregnant in Russia, and had the child in Saint Petersburg. I took care of the the baby, associated only with members of our family, and almost never left the house. I went to the medical clinic where the baby had his examinations only with my husband. I know nothing about immigration laws, rules, and violations. My husband handled all these problems,” recalls Yunusova.
“There Is No Hate, Only Resentment”
Zarina Yunusova grew up in a large family. She has nine brothers and sister. She was unable to finish school. The school is located five kilometers from their house. Children have to spend nearly three hours getting to school on mountain slops, so many children in the village do not attend school.
The majority of girls who do not attend school live in remote rural regions. While the numbers of girls and boys is approximately even in the lower grades, there are many fewer girls in the upper classes, say local teachers. Often parents decide that after the obligatory ninth grade a daughter should quit school and prepare for an early marriage.
At the same time, illiterate brides are valued in the rural areas. They are meek, humble, and completely financially dependent on the husband’s family.
Zarina Yunusov went to Russia to be with her husband without fear. Until she traveled to Russia, she knew very little [about the country], but she could not have guessed that anything bad would happen to her.
“After what happened, I will never go to Russia again. How can I forget what they did to me, how treated me? There is no hatred, but the resentment will last a lifetime,” says Yunusova.
The Authorities Did Not Arrive
The body of five-month-old Umarali Nazarov was flown to Dushanbe on November 15. He was buried the same day in the village of Boboi Vali in the Faizobod District, in the east of the country, where the baby’s father comes from. Only several foreign and independent local journalists were on hand to meet the family.
The baby’s relatives waited several hours for officials from the Tajik Ministry of Health, Interior Ministry, and General Prosecutor’s Office, but none of them arrived to meet the Nazarov family, despite promises from the Tajik Consulate in Saint Petersburg that they would be met at the airport and a forensic medical examination would be performed.
Officials from Dushanbe visited Zarina Yunusova several days after her arrival.
At the request of the Tajik Interior Ministry, Yunusova gave blood for a blood test, whose outcome will be known within a week.
In addition, the Tajik police took a statement from Yunusova in which the young woman asks for a criminal investigation into the death of Umarali Nazarov and that the Russian police officers and doctors at the Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital responsible, in her opinion, for his death be brought to justice.
In her suit, Yunusova also asks for 10 million rubles [approx. 141,00 euros] in financial compensation from the Russian side.
“I want to know the cause of my child’s death. The Tajik Interior Ministry explained to me that I had to give blood so they could put an end to all the rumors and prove that I am healthy, and that the baby was healthy. When we asked them why the relevant agencies did not show up the day we flew in and conduct an independent examination, we were told they had not known about the family’s arrivial in Tajikistan,” says Yunusova.
Hush Up the Case, Hide the Perpetrators
The major case squad in the investigative department of the Tajik Interior Ministry declined to comment on the particulars of the case to the BBC Russian Service while the investigation was still underway.
According to Karimjon Yerov, president of the Russian non-profit partnership ETMOS (Ethnic Tajiks for Responsible Migration by Compatriots), the results of a forensic examination of Umarali’s death would change nothing.
“Russia has never recognized medical records from Tajikistan. All the certificates that Tajik citizens get at home have not been recognized by the Russian side, despite an agreement to that effect. But in this case Russia will recognize an outcome that the parties could have agreed in advance, an outcome that blames the family and helps save face in the name of the so-called strategic partnership,” argues Yerov.
According to Yerov, Dushanbe is also not interested into getting to the bottom of the case and is now doing everything it can to hush the case up.
“The Tajik Consulate in Petersburg repeatedly stated its intention to conduct an independent forensic medical examination. Later, however, people from the Tajik Embassy claimed that such promises had never been made to the Nazarov family. A few days ago, a man identifying himself as an employee of the Tajik Interior Ministry and declared that he had arrived to detain and send hom the Tajik citizens who had organized the protest rally outside the Tajik Consulate in Petersburg. I am not certain that Tajik citizens needs a Tajik-Russian partnership based on humiliation, disempowerment, and the deaths of Tajikistani citizens,” says the president of ETMOS.
Karimjon Yerov speaking at a November 14, 2015, protest rally at the Field of Mars in Petersburg, demanding an objective investigation of Umarali Nazarov’s death (in Russian). Around a hundred people attended the rally.
The Prosecutor General’s Office told the BBC that the supervisory authority had not opened a criminal case in the death of the Tajik baby and was not currently involved in any investigation of the matter.
“In terms of government agencies, the Tajik side is quite dependent on the Russian side, so it is hardly worth expecting a conflict between them, even over the mother of the deceased child. As for punishing the guilty in Russia, the course of the investigation clearly displays an unwillingness to do this. The mother’s deportation, for example, speaks volumes. It may well turn out that departmental interests will prevail over the rule of law and basic human values. If we don’t manage to insist on a proper investigation of the Umarali Nazarov case now, then in the future we might see numerous such cases throughout Russia,” stresses political scientist Anton Yevstratov.
My previous posts on the death of Umarali Nazarov:
- “Why Such Hatred? (The Death of Umarali Nazarov),” October 23, 2015
“Deported Mother Returns to Tajikistan with Body of Dead Baby Son,” November 17, 2013
“Do Tajik Lives Matter in Petersburg?” November 11, 2013
An Example of Senseless Brutality
Why the Story of the Death of 5-Month-Old Umarali Nazarov Becomes No Less Important over Time
November 26, 2015
I want to tell you how Zarina Yunusova is doing. Yunusov is the mother of the five-month-old boy Umarali Nazarov, who in mid October suddenly died in a Petersburg hospital after he was taken from his mother at a police station. Yunusova still hardly eats or sleeps, and she cries constantly. Journalists from the Tajik news website Asia-Plus, who visited her at her parents’ home, where she has lived since she was expelled from Russia, describe her as terribly emaciated and depressed. Yunusova has still not met with a psychologist. The trip to the village is long and hard, and she is not permitted to go anywhere alone without her husband. Her husband, meanwhile, has stayed in Petersburg, where he has been trying to gain recognition as an injured party in the case of his son’s death. The independent forensic examination of the body in Tajikistan they were promised was never performed, but Yunusova herself was recently summoned to the Tajik Interior Ministry, where they took a sample of her blood without really explaining why.
Yes, and the current news agenda is completely different. The Russian public has been discussing the Russian bomber downed by the Turkish air force on the Turkish-Syrian border and the response of the Russian side. Before that there was news of the deaths of Russian civilian pilots at the hands of terrorists in Mali, and a mere three days before the bloodbath in Bamako the Russian authorities had officially recognized the Kogalymavia plane crash in the Sinai a a terrorist attack. Convoys of angry truckers have been lining the roadsides and threatening to move on Moscow. Crimea has been plunged into darkness due to the explosion of a power line in Ukraine, and the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court upheld the tellingly cruel sentence (twenty years in prison) against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, accused of terrorism.
So why I am talking today about Yunusova, when Umarali Nazarov dies a month and a half ago, was buried ten days ago, and the the decision to expel his mother was made long ago and has been carried out? Because, however long it happened, whatever dramatic and frightening events have filled our lives since then, the Tajik baby’s death has shocked a huge part of active society. Nearly 150,000 people have signed a petition demanding a thorough investigation of Umarali’s death, and dozens of people still ask me how they can help the family and what can be done so that something like this never happens again.
Because Umarali’s story is special. It is an example of pure, completely senseless inhumanity manifested publicly by the system towards the most defenseless people in the total absence of extreme necessity and all political expediency. At each stage of this story—from the Federal Migration Service officers who raided the Nazarov apartment and decided not wait until Umarali’s grandmother brought them the family document’s and did not let Yunusova put a cap on the baby, to Judge Elena Shirokova, who made the final decision to deport the dead baby’s mother—one person with a heart might have entered the picture and everything would have been different. But no such person was to be found.
Neither Yunusova nor her husband, with whom no one has been able to get in touch for several days, can fight for their rights in this case. So it is we who have to demand an objective investigation and punishment for the guilty.