Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Wednesday extended from two to three years a prison sentence that was given to a former school teacher convicted of sexually and physically abusing female students.
Levon Avagian, 59, was found guilty by a Yerevan district court in May of committing “violent obscene acts” at a boarding school in the city’s Nubarashen suburb, where he worked until last year. Avagian protested his innocence at the start of his trial in April but subsequently pleaded guilty to the accusation.
The lower court’s two-year prison sentence was based on incriminating testimony given to Diana Amirkhanian and Hasmik Sinanian, former school students who claim to have been victims of the alleged abuse. They both found the sentence too mild and asked the Court of Appeals to toughen it.
Amirkhanian withdrew the appeal for unclear reasons when the court opened hearings on it last month. Sinanian and her lawyers suspect that she did so under pressure from law-enforcement authorities.
They demanded during the hearings that Avagian be jailed for five years, the maximum sentence for his alleged crime envisaged by the Armenian Criminal Code. One of the lawyers, Tigran Hayrapetian, said her client is therefore only “partly satisfied” with the appeals court ruling.
“Justice will be fully done, if he gets a strict punishment,” Hayrapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “In our view, a three-year sentence is not a strict punishment.”
“I think people like him must be jailed for life,” Sinanian told the court on Tuesday.
One of the judges responded by asking, “Do you have a father?” “No,” she replied.
Speaking to RFE/RL after the court session, Sinanian said she left the Nubarashen school in 2007 because Avagian’s abusive behavior. “He was a very strict teacher,” she said. “And of course, there were terrible beatings and sexual harassment.”
The sex abuse scandal, the most high-profile in Armenia’s history, was triggered by a group of young civic activists who worked as volunteers at the school from April-June 2008. They said afterwards that some schoolgirls alleged abuse at the hands of Avagian.
One of the activists, Mariam Sukhudian, videotaped Amirkhanian and alerted Armenian media about her claims. Sukhudian was charged last summer with “false denunciation” and faced up to five years in prison.
But a mounting public uproar led state prosecutors to order the Yerevan police to drop the extremely controversial charge and prosecute Avagian instead. The latter’s imprisonment was followed by the sacking of the school principal, Meruzhan Yengibarian.