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Victims Decry 'Mild' Sentence In Armenian Child-Abuse Trial

Levon Avagian speaks at the start of his trial on April 26.
Levon Avagian speaks at the start of his trial on April 26.
YEREVAN -- Armenian rights activists and abuse victims are unhappy with the light sentence given to a teacher convicted of child abuse, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Levon Avagian, 59, was sentenced to two years in prison after confessing to sexually and physically abusing his boarding-school students in a high-profile trial in Yerevan.

The judge cited mitigating circumstances for the sentence, including Avagian's previously clean criminal record, his positive portrayal by school officials, his repentance, and admitted guilt.

The court found that while working as a teacher for children with special needs between 2006 and 2008, Avagian committed "violent obscene acts" against children under 16 years of age.

The sentence announcement was met with confusion and anger in the courtroom. Avagian, who had not been in pretrial detention, was immediately taken into custody.

A representative of the victims, Tigran Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL that the court's decision to hold an expedited trial following Avagian's admission of guilt helped mitigate his sentence.

Hayrapetian said that as a result of that decision many pieces of evidence in the case were not investigated and a number of witnesses remained unquestioned.

"The maximum sentence was to have been five years in prison," Hayrapetian said. "Due to the efforts of the counsels for the prosecution and the defense, the maximum sentence was lowered to 40 months in prison. We think this is the sentence that should have been passed in this case,"

Hayrapetian added that the case showed the state's attitude toward such crimes.

"This was a very unfair trial," one of the five underage victims in the case, 17-year-old Hasmik Sinanian, told RFE/RL after the trial. "Two years is too short a sentence. [Avagian] should have been sentenced to at least four years. He will not even realize his guilt and will not admit it this way."

Mariam Sukhudian, who first alerted the media to Avagian's conduct, said those who protected Avagian should also be held responsible.

"Without hearing the victims and examining the evidence, they staged a speedy trial," she told RFE/RL. "Had the witnesses spoken, the list of criminals would have been longer. We demand that the whole truth be revealed."

The prosecutor, who initially demanded 18 months in prison for Avagian, said he was not going to appeal the sentence. Avagian's attorney refused to comment.

The case has raised questions about Armenia's boarding schools, which are primarily for orphans and disabled children. They have long been notorious for a lack of transparency, poor sanitary conditions, and ill-treatment of students.