Activists and victims in Armenia are outraged that a serial pedophile has received mild sentence by a court in capital Yerevan. A speedy trial for a boarding school teacher has sentenced Levon Avagian to two years in prison for sexually and physically abusing orphans and children with special needs.
“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,” complains young activist (and vibrant environmentalist) Mariam Sukhudyan, who broke the news of the abuse in 2008 (later initiating a petition) after volunteering at the boarding school.
Sukhudyan’s reporting alerted Armenia’s pro-government Public Television (H1) to cover the story of the abuse, which resulted in the police opening the case. Soon, however, Sukhudyan was herself in trouble for reporting the abuse allegations (likely, due to her increasing green activism). She was charged with “false denunciation based on lucrative motives” – with a possible five year conviction. (The case was later dropped, and Mariam was awarded “Woman of Courage Award” by the US Embassy in Armenia.)
Mariam Sukhudyan is not the only one openly decrying the mild sentence. According to Ianyan Mag, an Armenian blog:
“The sentencing is very mild for the crimes he committed,” said Lara Aharonian, founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, in an email interview with ianyan. “This man sexually assaulted young girls, humiliated them in front of everyone, they were beaten.”
While Aharonian, who was at the court during the sentencing, does not think the time Avagian will serve is enough, she does believe it is a start to changing the law. Article 141, “Sexual acts with a person under 16″ of the Republic of Armenia Criminal Code is punishable with labor or imprisonment of up to two years.
“At least six years in prison and working to change the law with NGOs would satisfy,” she said.
Boarding schools in Armenia are often last resort for poor families, and a great source of profiteering for individuals involved in managing these facilities:
For each child placed in the institution, the administration gets from the state approximately $5,000 to $7,000 per year if the child has mental problems, Aharonian said.
“For years NGOs and children’s rights org were lobbying to close those institutions because these places are not normal places to raise children.”
The school allegedly passed of children without any mental problems as “mentally retarded” in order to profit, a point included in the volunteer team’s petition letter which said that healthy children were instructed to pretend to have disabilities during medical checks.
Aharonian, who repatriated from Canada to Armenia, tweeted Thursday: “tomorrow, first meeting with lawyers to work on the changes for the Sexual Violence Law,- stressed.”