Dancing with deportation. Chinese student taken from dormitory, declared in violation of quarantine, and expelled from Russia
Александр Бородихин
Dancing with deportation. Chinese student taken from dormitory, declared in violation of quarantine, and expelled from Russia
11 March 2020, 16:00

Sang Yani. Photo: VK page

In late February, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced that police were conducting raids on places where Chinese people might be living, searching for them on the metro and ground transport, and using a facial recognition system. The mayor was proud that cameras had detected a girl who had violated coronavirus quarantine conditions and went for a walk in the yard; a similar story was told by Artem, a Moscow resident who went out to take out the rubbish.

Chinese citizens who recently arrived in Moscow are being mass-detained and sent to their homes for quarantine, only to be arrested for leaving their apartments, according to numerous court rulings on deportation. The nature of their offences is mundane: Go Teczjun “understood she was violating her stay, but needed to buy bread,” Xu Ke and Wu Xinhao claim they were “tricked by police into leaving their homes,” Fu Kangqiao “believed he could leave his residence once before the end of his isolation period due to a mistranslation,” and Zhang Kun and Wang B. needed to “go outside to obtain a visa.” All the Chinese citizens were detained and later deported.

Mediazona tells the story of Sang Yani, a student at the Moscow State Institute of Culture (MGIK), who was ordered to be expelled from the country in one of these hopeless trials.

The chorus of one of the tracks by American musician Earl St. Clair ends with the phrase “I don’t want to be a criminal.” This track is on the VK page of Chinese student Sang Yani, who hadn’t been online for a week: on March 4, a court in Moscow ordered the young woman to be expelled from Russia for violating COVID quarantine, took away her phone and placed her in a temporary detention centre for foreigners in the village of Sakharovo.

Dancing at MGIK

20-year-old Sang Yani from China’s Henan Province was studying at the Moscow State Institute of Culture: she enrolled in the choreography department and planned to become a modern dance teacher.

“We always called her Yani in our course,” Darya Suspitsyna, a third-year student at MGIK who studied with her for two and a half years, told Mediazona. “Once, a teacher in the first year asked, ‘Yana, is it?’ when meeting her, but it was more of a joke. Her name is not so difficult for us Russians, so both teachers and students always called her by her native name.”

The young dancer spoke poor Russian and did not always understand what teachers demanded of her. Yani was the only foreigner in the course and mainly communicated with Chinese friends.

“She is a sweet, kind girl,” says Suspitsyna. “I remember when I asked if she would go home, then inquired, ‘Do you miss home?.’ She, of course, said, ‘Very much.’ This time I asked if she would go to her homeland for the New Year, she answered positively. This holiday means a lot to them. She gave gifts to our entire course twice before leaving for the holidays.”

Dancing in “Tsaritsyno”

The flight from China on which Sang Yani returned to Moscow after the holidays landed at Sheremetyevo airport on February 17. There, she was handed a decree by the deputy chief sanitary doctor for Moscow, Elena Ignatova, about a two-week “isolation regime” due to the “threat of the import and spread of a new coronavirus infection”; the decree was enforced under threat of administrative or even criminal liability.

After signing the document, Yani went to her room in the MGIK dormitory in Khimki, a city in the Moscow metropolitan area; there was no data on whether she actually had the infection. Five days later, she was detained by the police.

"On 22 February 2020, officers of the [OPNTD] OKSM UVM GU MVD of Russia in Moscow, as part of work to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in the city of Moscow, identified a citizen of the PRC Sang Yani, born on July 21, 1999, who violated Decree No. 4536 dated February 17, 2020, issued by the Chief Sanitary Doctor for Moscow on being in isolation regime. I would suggest holding this citizen administratively liable under Part 3 of Article 18.8 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation", Inspector Valuev did not bother to correct the template and change male to feminine suffixes when compiling this certificate late at night on March 4.

This document was written two weeks after the student’s actual detention. She spent all this time in forced isolation at the “Tsaritsyno” rehabilitation centre, which was repurposed by the Moscow authorities into a quarantine facility.

That same night of March 4, Valuev, with errors, drew up an administrative protocol: the student was allegedly “identified” in a “public place”—in “apartment 148” of one of the buildings on Zelenogradskaya Street in Moscow.

Lawyer Sergei Malik, representing Sang Yani, insists that the police tricked her into leaving her room in the dormitory by offering to take her for a medical examination—after which she ended up in the “Tsaritsyno” institution. The defender tried to get to his client, but was refused by the security and called the police to document this fact; he was unable to secure a meeting with Sang Yani.

Dancing in Court

The hearing on the administrative protocol took place on the same day, March 4, without a lawyer: according to Malik, a videoconference was organised at “Tsaritsyno” with the Moscow City Court, where a judge from the Golovinsky District Court came to consider the case. A Chinese-language interpreter, Abdujabbor Khaitov, who was also present when the protocol was drawn up, participated in the hearing.

Mediazona obtained the audio recording of the hearing, which indicates a very formulaic consideration of the case: when the judge explains the girl’s rights to her, Khaitov conveys their meaning in Chinese, after which he translates her answer: “Um... Yes, Your Honour, everything is clear.” “No, it’s not clear, not clear!” Yani desperately exclaims in Russian, trying to request the attachment of a written explanatory note. Judge Anton Salkov ignores this and asks her to address him through an interpreter.

“I don’t know how to answer your question, I need representatives from the embassy, I need a lawyer!” Sang Yani answers in Russian to the judge’s question about admitting guilt.

“She will not answer questions because there is no lawyer. He didn’t come, she says, call him,” the interpreter summarises.

“There is no information about a lawyer in the case file. You are now in isolation regime, there is no information about your defender in the case file, he was not present when the material was drawn up, so we cannot notify anyone at the moment,” the judge imperturbably replies.

“I need to give a written explanation! I have it, I wrote it!” the Chinese woman tries to explain in Russian.

“You are refusing to give explanations, do I understand you correctly? Do I understand correctly, interpreter?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” says Khaitov, and the judge is satisfied with this answer.

Judge Salkov made the decision to find Sang Yani guilty and fine her 5,000 roubles with expulsion from Russia in the deliberation room in 1 minute and 20 seconds; it took him over seven minutes to read out the ruling.

The hearing on Sang Yani’s appeal on March 10 at the Moscow City Court was held without the student: after the Golovinsky Court’s decision, she was sent to a temporary detention centre for foreign nationals in the village of Sakharovo, and the court did not consider it necessary to establish a video link, announcing that the woman had been notified of the hearing.

Lawyer Malik, whose jacket lapel shimmers with a badge with the crossed flags of Russia and China, announces that MGIK sent a petition to the court asking not to deport the student. He asks the court to carefully examine the transcript of the hearing with the participation of Khaitov and listen to the recording of the hearing; according to the defender, the interpreter did not properly fulfil his duties.

“From the moment of her arrival in the Russian Federation, when handing over the decree of the sanitary doctor, a mistake was immediately made, which formed the basis of the protocol, in her explanations drawn up by police officers,” the defender tried to explain. “Sang Yani lives in Khimki at MGIK, she has never been on Zelenogradskaya Street, it is impossible to find out how the address ended up in the ruling.

The lawyer pointed out that the student was not present when the protocol was drawn up at 4am on March 4, that at the airport she was warned about violating some articles of the Code of Administrative Offences, but was convicted under another, that the “Tsaritsyno” institution where she was staying was “a kind of detention centre.”

“I believe that this is a discriminatory decision. For some reason, Italians are not being caught, Iranians are not being caught—only Chinese are being caught, and Chinese are being deported. Sang Yani really hopes that the court will sort it out. I would ask to approach this in a balanced way, not to ruin the girl’s life, to give her the opportunity to finish her studies in the Russian Federation,” he concluded.

Judge Pritula returned to the hall after a few minutes and announced that the deportation decision remained in force.

Editor: Dmitry Treschanin

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