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Defiant Armenian Activist Demands Trial In Defamation Case

Mariam Sukhudian
Mariam Sukhudian
YEREVAN -- A young civic activist in Armenia who triggered a scandal about alleged sexual and other abuse at a Yerevan boarding school has turned down a police deal for a pardon that would avoid a trial on libel charges, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Mariam Sukhudian, a leader of the environmental group SOS Teghut, was among about a dozen youths who worked in April-June 2008 as volunteers at Boarding School No. 11 for children with special needs in the Yerevan suburb of Nubarashen.

They later accused the school administration of failing to ensure minimal standards of education and hygiene and of routinely ill-treating the students. They also cited some schoolgirls as alleging sexual harassment by one of their teachers.

Sukhudian videotaped one of those girls and alerted Armenian media about her claims.

The school administration strongly denied the allegations, and a police investigation cleared the school and the teacher in question, Levon Avagian, of any wrongdoing. Police say the alleged victim withdrew her allegations.

Police then accused Sukhudian of persuading the girl, who graduated from the school in June 2008, to falsely incriminate her teacher for "personal gain."

The activist was charged in August with "false denunciation," a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

On October 21, police informed Sukhudian and her lawyer, Nona Galstian, that the charge had been reduced to "slander," which carries heavy fines and a prison sentence of up to three years.

According to Sukhudian, a police investigator also said the case will be dropped altogether if she agrees to apply for a general amnesty declared by the Armenian authorities earlier this year.

"I told him that I don't consider myself guilty and demand the prosecution of the real criminals," she said, speaking to journalists outside police headquarters today.