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Sex-Abuse Trial Begins For Armenian Teacher

Levon Avagian

Levon Avagian

YEREVAN -- A Yerevan school teacher went on trial today for sexual abuse, one year after being cleared by Armenian police of wrongdoing, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The trial of Levon Avagian, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, marks a turnaround in the investigation.

In 2008, volunteers at the boarding school for children with special needs had publicized claims by schoolgirls of sexual abuse. Mariam Sukhudian, a leader of the advocacy group SOS Teghut, helped expose these allegations.

An ensuing police inquiry cleared Avagian of any wrongdoing. 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 charges against Sukhudian in early March. The decision was announced a day after Sukhudian, 30, received an award from the U.S. Embassy in Armenia for civic activism and volunteer work at the boarding school in Yerevan's southern Nubarashen suburb.

The Prosecutor-General's Office also announced then that Yerevan police had launched a new criminal investigation into "obscene acts against minors" possibly committed at the school. Avagian, who left the school last year, was later charged under a corresponding article of the Criminal Code that carries up to three years' imprisonment.

The short court session was adjourned until May 4 after Avagian told the judge he needs to hire a new lawyer.

Meanwhile, alleged victim Hasmik Sinanian was reportedly taken to a police station in another Yerevan district and detained for several hours today. Sukhudian, who was present in the courtroom, attributed the young woman's brief detention to the start of the high-profile trial.