The trial of Levon Avagian marked a dramatic turnaround in a police investigation into the allegations publicized by young civic activists who worked as volunteers at the boarding school for children with special needs in April-June 2008. According to them, some schoolgirls claimed to have been sexually harassed by Avagian.
Mariam Sukhudian, a leader of the environment protection group SOS Teghut, videotaped one of those girls, Diana Amirkhanian, and alerted Armenian media about her claims in late 2008. The school administration strongly denied the allegations.
Armenia -- Levon Avagian, the schoolteacher at the center of a sex abuse scandal, speaks at the start of his trial, 26 April 2010.
An ensuing police inquiry cleared the administration and Avagian personally of any wrongdoing, saying that Amirkhanian withdrew her allegations. Sukhudian was subsequently charged with “false denunciation,” a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
State prosecutors ordered the police to drop the charge in early March. The decision was announced the day after Sukhudian, 30, received an award from the U.S. Embassy in Armenia for her civic activism and volunteer work at the school located in Yerevan’s southern Nubarashen suburb.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General also announced that the Yerevan police department has launched a new criminal investigation into “obscene acts against minors” possibly committed at the Nubarashen school. Avagian, who left the school last year, was later charged under a corresponding article of the Criminal Code, which carries up to three years’ imprisonment.
The teacher pleaded not guilty to the accusation as his trial got underway at the court of first instance of the Erebuni and Nubarashen districts. The short court session was adjourned until May 4 after he told the judge that needs time to hire a new lawyer.
Meanwhile, one of the alleged abuse victims, Hasmik Sinanian, was reportedly taken to a police station in another Yerevan district, Nor Nork, and kept there for several hours on Monday. One of her lawyers, Avag Lalayan, said Sinanian was questioned as a witness of another crime.
Sukhudian, who was present in the courtroom, attributed the young woman’s brief detention to the unfolding high-profile trial. “I link that with this trial because she was one of the most active heroes who insisted all along that such things happened to her,” she told journalists. “Nobody could stop her doing that. Now she is in police custody and her lawyer is not allowed to visit her.”