Ուրբաթ, դեկտեմբերի 19, 2014 Ժամանակը Երեւանում 13:19

in English

Victims, Civic Activists Decry ‘Mild Sentence’ in Child Abuse Trial

Victims and civic activists in Armenia have met with anger and dismay the decision of a court which, on Monday, sentenced a former boarding school teacher, who had admitted having sexually and physically abused his students, to only two years in prison.

Former school teacher Levon Avagian facing child abuse charges walking away from a protest in Yerevan, 19 May 2010
Former school teacher Levon Avagian facing child abuse charges walking away from a protest in Yerevan, 19 May 2010
The judge in the high-profile trial in Yerevan said among the mitigating circumstances for the sentence was that Levon Avagian, 59, had no previous criminal record, was positively characterized [by the school administration], had shown repentance and admitted his guilt.

The court found it proved that while working as an Armenian language and literature teacher at Nubarashen School #11 for children with special needs in 2006-2008 Avagian committed “violent obscene acts” against children aged below 16. Avagian was found guilty under two parts of Article 142 of the Criminal Code of Armenia.

The judge’s announcement of the sentence, according to which under the first count Avagian was sentenced to six months in prison and under the second was sentenced to 18 months in prison, was met with perplexity and anger in the courtroom. Avagian, who hadn’t been in pretrial detention, was immediately taken into custody.

Representative of the victims’ side Tigran Hayrapetian told RFE/RL that the decision on a speedy trial that followed Avagian’s admitting his guilt contributed to the mitigation of the sentence. As a result of that decision, he said, many pieces of evidence in the case remained uninvestigated and a number of witnesses remained unquestioned. Hence, Hayrapetian said, the sentence could not be longer than two thirds of the maximum punishment.

“The maximum sentence was to have been five years in prison. Due to the efforts of the counsel for the prosecution and the defense the maximum sentence was lowered to 40 months in prison. We think this is the sentence that should have been passed in this case,” said Hayrapetian, adding that the case was an acid test for the state’s attitude towards such crimes in Armenia.

“This was a very unfair trial,” one of the five underage victims in the case, 17-year-old Hasmik Sinanian, told RFE/RL after the conclusion of the trial. “Two years is too short a sentence. He [Avagian] should have been sentenced to at least four years. He will not even realize his guilt and will not admit it this way.”

Mariam Sukhudian, who was the first to alert the media about the conduct of the teacher, said those who stood behind Avagian should also be held responsible. “Without hearing the victims and examining the evidence they staged a speedy trial. Had the witnesses spoken, the list of criminals would have been extended. We demand that the whole truth be revealed,” Sukhudian told RFE/RL.

The prosecutor, who initially demanded 18 months in prison for Avagian, said he was not going to appeal the sentence. Avagian’s defense attorney refused to answer media questions.

The Nubarashen scandal has raised more questions about Armenia’s boarding schools, which are primarily supposed to educate orphans and disabled children. They have long been notorious for a lack of transparency, poor sanitary conditions and ill-treatment of students.