Zarina Yunusova: “I will never forgive what was done to me”

Zarina Yunusova: “I will never forgive what was done to me”
Anora Sarkorova | BBC Russian Service, Dushanbe
November 27, 2015
BBC

Зарина Юнусова
Zarina Yunusova: “I still remember holding him in my arms, feeling the warmth of his body, and seeing him smiling at me.”

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

Могила Умарали Назарова
Umarali Nazarov was buried November 15 in the village of Boboi Vali in the Faizobod District.

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

Каримджон Еров
Karimjon Yerov says that Dushanbe is attempting to hush up the Umarali Nazarov case.

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.

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My previous posts on the death of Umarali Nazarov:

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An Example of Senseless Brutality 
Why the Story of the Death of 5-Month-Old Umarali Nazarov Becomes No Less Important over Time 
Maria Eismont
November 26, 2015
Vedomosti

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.

Both articles translated by the Russian Reader
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Deported Mother Returns to Tajikistan with Baby Son’s Body

Yunusova after arriving in Tajikistan with the body of her five-month-old son Umarali Nazarov. Photo courtesy of Gogol's Wives
Zarina Yunusova after arriving in Tajikistan with the body of her five-month-old son Umarali Nazarov, who died in unexplained circumstances while in the custody of Petersburg police and medics. Photo courtesy of Gogol’s Wives

Mother of Deceased Tajik Baby Leaves Petersburg, Taking His Body with Her 
November 16, 2015
Mediazona

Zarina Yunusova, expelled from Russia by order of the court, has left Petersburg, writes Fontanka.Ru. Yunusova had been recognized as the injured party in the investigation into the wrongful death of her five-month-old son Umarali.

In the early hours of November 16, Yunusova left Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport on Flight SZ204, bound for Dushanbe, the family’s lawyer, Oleg Barsukov, informed online news website Fontanka.Ru.

Yunusova took the child’s body with her in order to perform a forensic medical examination on it and bury the child there. Barsurkov noted that no problems had arisen while arranging for transport of the body.

Earlier, the October District Court in Petersburg had reaffirmed the decision to expel Yunusova from Russia since she was in the country illegally.

Face-to-face confrontations between Yunusova and police and Federal Migration Service officers had been scheduled for November 16 and 17 in Petersburg.

Five-month-old Umarali Nazarov died on October 14 at Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital, where he had been sent by police after local FMS detained him during a raid on the family’s home. According to the forensic examination [allegedly performed in Petersburg], Nazarov died of acute cardiopulmonary failure.

According to FlashNord news agency, citing relatives who attended the funeral, Nazarov has been buried in the Tajik village of Boboi Vali. The news agency did note whether a forensic medical examination had been performed before the funeral, as had been planned after the body arrived in Tajikistan. 

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade GV for the heads-up

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Our Swimmer

Do Tajik lives matter in Petersburg? The official answer has so far been a resounding no. (And the “grassroots” answer has been a resounding yawn, actually).

Well, now that that pesky Zarina Yunusova and her creepy little dead baby are out of our hair, we can move on with our more important “European” lives, which here in the former capital of All the Russias are entirely built, swept and cleaned, and stocked and supplied with all the essentials for a pittance by expendable, utterly disempowered insectoid others like Zarina’s husband and Umarali’s father Rustam.

I don’t have the foggiest why anyone who lives in such a backward cesspool can imagine they have anything meaningful or helpful to say about the actual Europe and its alleged “Muslim,” “refugee,” “terrorist,” etc., problem, but as many of us know, nattering on endlessly and furiously about the “fate of Europe” is almost a national sport among the Tajik-loathing Russian jabberwockies.

Do Tajik Lives Matter in Petersburg?

The Explanation Remains the Same: “No One Is to Blame
Nina Petlyanova
November 9, 2015
Novaya Gazeta Saint Petersburg

Forensic experts have identified the cause of death of five-month-old Umarali Nazarov, who died at Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital in the early hours of October 14

The two initial hypotheses advanced by physicians—upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—have been rejected. Now a third hypothesis emerged: the infant was laid low by Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. Allegedly, it could have developed while the baby was still in his mother’s womb. The parents and their attorneys have nothing to say to this for the time being. They have been officially recognized as injured parties in the case of the baby’s death, but at the same time they are the only ones who have not been apprised of the outcome of the forensic examination.

Rustam Nazarov displays a photo of his late son Umarali on the screen of his telephone. Photo: Elena Lukyanova
Rustam Nazarov displays a photo of his late son Umarali on the screen of his telephone. Photo: Elena Lukyanova

Two news agencies, TASS and Fontanka.Ru, announced the cause of Umarali Nazarov’s death on the evening of November 6. How and why journalists were informed before his mother, father, and their defense attorneys is a question for police investigators. The reporters quoted finding reaches by experts from the Petersburg Bureau of Forensic Medicine (BSME), but did not identify where they had received the information. Sources at the BSME told Novaya Gazeta they had not leaked any documents to the media.

“No one besides certain journalists has seen the conclusions of the forensic experts,” Olga Tseitlina, an attorney for the injured parties, told Novaya Gazeta in an interview. “We have not formally reviewed them, but we have announced that this is another violation of the rights of the injured parties. At the same time, on both November 5 and November 6, Zarina Yunusova (Umarali’s mother), Rustam Nazarov (his father), and their defense attorneys were at the investigative department for a long time, but investigators said not a word about the fact the findings of the forensic examination were ready. Until we have the official report of the experts, we cannot even petition the court to conduct an independent investigation. We have not been apprised not only of the findings but also of the official decision to order a forensic examination, meaning that we were deprived of the opportunity to ask additional questions and propose our own forensic experts.”

On the morning of October 13, 2015, the Federal Migration Service raided a rented flat at Lermontov Prospect, 5. They detained Zarina Yunusova, a 21-year-old citizen of Tajikistan and her young son, who were both taken to Police Precinct No. 1. There, Yunusova was separated from the infant, transported to court, and released only in the evening. The child was handed over to ambulance brigade medics and sent to Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital, where he died in the early hours of October 14.

At first, doctors said the preliminary cause of death was URTI. Later, members of the Human Rights Council (HRC), who conducted their own inquiry into the infant’s death in Petersburg from October 26 to October 31, said the cause of death was SIDS. According to the findings of forensic experts, as reported on November 6, the boy died from a CMV infection.

The news agencies published the following quotation from the report: “The cause of Umarali Nazarov’s death was a disease, a generalized (CMV) infection. The infection was complicated by the onset of cardiopulmonary disease. No traces of ethyl alcohol, narcotics or powerful medicaments were found in the child’s internal organs.”

As sources at the Petersburg BSME explained to Novaya Gazeta, a generalized (CMV) infection attacks nearly all the vital organs. According to the tests carried out, the virus did not incubate in Umarali overnight. It had already managed to attack his respiratory, cardiac, and gastrointestinal systems. The baby was diagnosed postmortem with pneumonia, dystrophy of the liver, dystrophy of the pancreas, stomach dysfunction, alterations of the adrenal gland, chronic inflammation of the small intestine (enteritis), cerebral edema, and spinal edema. The pathologists stressed that the child could have contracted the CMV infection even in his mother’s womb.

Umarali’s parents do not believe the findings as reported. They assure us their son was never ill and had no health problems. Nazarov’s medical chart shows that he had received all the necessary vaccinations for a five-month-old child. There is also written confirmation that until the moment of his death the baby looked healthy: the entries in his medical chart, in the report filed by the ambulance medics, and in the logbook at Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital.

Doctors from Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital have now been making mutually exclusive claims in the media, for example, that CMV infection is not amenable to visual diagnosis, that it can be diagnosed only after a comprehensive examination, and that outwardly CMV infection can manifest as URTI. So was it possible to notice the symptoms of the disease or not? Why, then, did none of the doctors notice anything for ten hours, that is, until the baby died?

“I want to remind everyone,” says Ilya Shablinsky, a member of the HRC commission that investigated Umarali Nazarov’s death, “that we have the intermediate results of several examinations of the children, by the paramedics from the ambulance brigade when the boy was hospitalized and twice by doctors at the hospital, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Everywhere they write that the baby is healthy, his temperature is normal, and he has a good appetite. The parents have every reason not to trust [doctors and police] and be afraid. What happened to their son between 2 p.m. and midnight, after which time he died? Regardless of what gets written now in the autopsy report, this has no impact on the accountability of police officers. The main conclusion that the HRC commission reached was that police officers exceeded their authority by removing the child from his mother and should be brought to justice. Umarali died not in his mother’s arms, but twelve hours after he was separated from her. This is a crime, and it is mentioned in the HRC’s report, which will be sent to President Vladimir Putin in the coming days.”

Petersburgers expressed their condolences to Umarali Nazarov's family by bringing flowers to the Tajikistan Consulate on Fonarnyi Pereulok in Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader, October 30, 2015
Petersburgers expressed their condolences to Umarali Nazarov’s family by bringing flowers to the Tajikistan Consulate on Fonarnyi Pereulok in Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader, October 30, 2015

“There still has been no procedural decision on the actions of the police officers who removed the child from the mother, although all the deadlines for this have come and gone long ago,” continues Olga Tseitlina. “Aside from their own standing orders, the police officers at the very least violated the Family Code and the European Convention, which prohibit separating parents and children in such cases. We have never stated that the police killed the child, but we do claim that it removed him illegally and that this certainly caused harm. If the child had been with his mother, we do not know whether he would have died or not. And even if he was infected with a deadly virus, the question remains as to how long he would have lived. The state failed to protect the infant’s life, and now it is not investigating [his death]. The investigation is not looking for the perpetrators but attempting to establish the parents’ guilt. First, they attempted to prove that the child was poorly looked after, that he lived in poor conditions, and had caught cold. When that hypothesis did not pan out, they said the child died of a virus. All the efforts of the investigators we have seen so far have been directed towards finding an explanation that suits everyone involved in the tragedy. The reported findings of the cause of death completely jibe with the original position adopted by the police, the FMS, and the doctors: no one is to blame. I do not know whether the true causes of Umarali Nazarov’s death will ever be established, but I am ready to go to the European Court of Human Rights to prove that the investigation has been improper.”

Police investigators have failed to inform the parents not only of the findings of the forensic medical examination but also of the outcome of the autopsy done at the city morgue in October. Because of this and many other actions taken by investigators, the Tajikistan Honorary Consulate in Petersburg sent a note of protest to the city prosecutor’s office and the Main Investigative Department of the Petersburg Office of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. The Tajikistan Consulate voiced its dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the criminal investigation of five-month-old Umarali Nazarov’s death.

Direct Quotation

Rustam Nazarov, Umarali’s father:

We do not believe the child had this disease. There was nothing that would indicate [he had] any disease all his life. Umarali was never ill. We understand why this is happening. The authorities cannot take responsibility for the child’s death, but they torment us. They shift the blame on us: we have a bad apartment; we have bad blood. But I do not think those are their problems. They have one problem: to find out how and why our child died. And we want only one thing: to find out how and why our son died. We do not believe that anyone will be punished for this. We just want to know.

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Parents of deceased Tajik boy forcibly taken to hospital
November 10, 2015
Fontanka.Ru

Parents of the five-month-old Tajik boy who died in St. Petersburg [in October] were forcibly taken to the Botkin Memorial Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

Tajik diaspora lawyer Uktam Ahmedov has informed Fontanka.Ru that today the police forcibly took the parents of the deceased Tajik infant Umarali Nazarov, Rustam Nazarov and Zarina Yunusova, from [their flat] on Lermontov Prospect to the Botkin Hospital for tests. Ahmedov said that police wanted to check them for the presence of the her

Ahmedov said the virus is present in ninety percent of the population, but police want to use this alleged piece of evidence to blame the parents for infecting the boy.

According to Akhmedov, no charges have been filed under Article No. 156 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (dereliction of duty in the upbringing of a minor).

How Russia Treats “Compatriots”: The Case of Tatyana Kotlyar

A residence permit on Lermontov Street: why a human rights activist from Obninsk violates the laws of the Russian Federation
Julia Vishnevetskaya
October 3, 2015
Deutsche Welle

Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, who has registered over a thousand immigrants at her home, is on trial in Obninsk. DW got to the bottom of the case.

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Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar

The latest hearing in the case of human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, on Friday, October 2, at the Obninsk Magistrate Court, began with a surprise. It transpired that the judge hearing the case had resigned a mere two days earlier.

“I wonder if there is an article in Criminal Code for causing a judge to resign?” joked defense counsel Illarion Vasilyev.

He does not rule out that the resignation was connected to the Kotlyar case. Earlier, 43-year-old Judge Svetlana Baykova sent the case back to the prosecutor’s office because new circumstances had come to light: the list of immigrants the defendant had been accused of having registered in her “rubber” flat had changed. Along with the new circumstances has come a new judge, Dmitry Trifonov. Now everything has to begin again, complains Vasilyev, although, during the previous phase, examination of the witnesses alone lasted two months. Since none of the witnesses was present at the October 2 session, a substantive consideration of the case was postponed until October 12.

The substance of the case
Former Obninsk City Assembly deputy Tatyana Kotlyar does not deny that she has registered over a thousand people in her three-room flat on Lermontov Street. She registered them deliberately and made no secret of the fact, even mentioning it in an open letter to President Putin. Former residents of such different countries as Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Germany, Israel, and even Brazil are registered in Kotlyar’s flat.

“There were Old Believers from Brazil, who had decided to return to Russia seventy years later,” recounts Kotlyar. “They sold everything  and left. When they showed up on my  doorstep in their old-fashioned caftans, I thought a folk music ensemble had arrived. Now they have received land in rural areas, they have received Russian passports, and they are fine.”

Most of Kotlyar’s wards arrived in Russia under the state program for the resettlement of compatriots. In operation since 2006, the program involves a simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for people “brought up in the traditions of Russian culture, [and who] speak Russian and do not wish to lose touch with Russia.” Kaluga Region is one of the regions participating in the program. In these regions, new residents of the Russian Federation are supposed to get full support from the state, including assistance finding employment and even relocation expenses.

“But no one warned them that the first thing they would need to do would be to register themselves at their place of residence,” complains Kotlyar. “Without registration [propiska] it is impossible to draw up documents, send children to school, and register for care at a local health clinic.”

“She didn’t take a kopeck from us”
This was the problem faced by Diana Tigranyan, who moved with her family from Yerevan to Obninsk.

“At the Russian consulate in Armenia they promised us mountains of gold! No one said we would need a residence permit,” recounts Tigranyan. “But here it turned that the owners of the flat we rented were afraid to register strangers. There are firms that charge 15,000 rubles a person for this service. But I have a husband, parents, and two children. Where would I get this money?”

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Diana Tigranyan and family

It was not just anyone who advised Tigranyan to turn to Kotlyar, but the Federal Migration Service itself.

“The female employee who was processing my documents said, ‘I cannot help you in any way, but out in the hallway there is a woman. Try approaching her.'”

At first, Tigranyan thought Kotlyar also made money from residence permits.

“I offered her money, and she turned it down. When we told about this in court, no one believed it. But she really is a saint. She didn’t take a kopeck from us.”

Criminal case
Tatyana Kotlyar became an offender on January 1, 2014, when the so-called law on rubber flats came into force. It makes registering a person somewhere other than their place of residence a criminal offense. Criminal charges were filed in March 2014. Kotlyar was charged under Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code (“Fictitious residence registration of foreign citizens in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”) and Article 322.3 (“Fictitious local registration of a foreign citizen in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”). Interestingly, on the list of twelve names entered into evidence by the prosecution, there are two people whom Kotlyar has never seen herself.

“Apparently, some woman at the passport office or post office who handles registration knew about my flat and just registered some more people there, for money or as a favor.”

In recent months, Kotlyar has registered several hundred Ukrainian citizens.

“They come to see me every day. They include both refugees from hot spots and men from other regions who are threatened with being drafted into the army in Ukraine. The Russian government has promised to help, but ultimately these people face the same problem as all immigrants.”

Kotlyar is certain that the law on rubber flats violates human rights.

“This did not happen even under Stalin. Then they sentenced people to camps for residing without a passport or residence permit, but at least they didn’t punish the landlord.”

According to Kotlyar, the government is trying to fight the effect rather than the cause.

“Where there is demand, there will always be supply. The problem is not rubber flats, but the very institution of the residence permit. It should be a matter of simple notification, and its presence or absence should in no way affect the provision of civil rights.”

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Illarion Vasilyev, Tatyana Kotlyar’s defense attorney

She helped solved the crime
Illarion Vasilyev, Kotlyar’s attorney, understands that the human rights activist has deliberately put herself in the way of the new law to draw attention to the problem.

“Yes, it’s her civic stance. She knows she will be held liable, and she has issued a challenge,” says Vasilyev in an interview with DW. “Has she harmed anyone? Yes, she probably has. The service of legalizing compatriots costs a lot of money, and Kotlyar constitutes competition for the firms that make money on this. But the people who are questioned as prosecution witnesses at the trial bow at her feet and say thank you.”

Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 rubles or imprisonment for up to three years for fictitious registration. The article, however, contains an important proviso.

“A person who commits an offense under this article shall be exempt from criminal liability if he helped solve the crime and if his actions do not constitute another crime.”

According to Vasilyev, no one has helped solve the crime as much as Kotlyar herself has.

Translated by the Russian Reader