YEREVAN (A.W.)–Mariam Sukhudyan, the activist who uncovered cases of sexual abuse by a long-time teacher at a special needs school in a Yerevan suburb, is now pressing charges against authorities and the police for violating her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. She is seeking one million dram in compensation for moral damages.
The court hearing is scheduled to take place at noon on Nov. 1, at Center and Nork Marash regional court, and is open to the public. Garine Bedrosyan is set to preside over the hearing.
Sukhudyan has specifically named chief-of-police Alik Sargsyan and the head of public relations branch of the police department, Sayat Shirinyan, for violating article 18 of the Republic of Armenia’s criminal code, which states that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
In the early days of the Nubarashen scandal, Sargsyan said, “[Mariam] has come forth with groundless accusations; has accused innocent folk; and has instigated minors to commit punishable acts.” Similarly, during an interview, Shirinyan called Sukhudyan a “criminal.”
Sukhudyan has said that if she wins the case, she does not intend to keep the money. “I will give the money specifically to those kids who suffered at that school. That’s the money that should have reached them, but never did.”
In November 2008, Sukhudyan, an environmental activist, had publicized allegations of sexual abuse made by students against a teacher at the Nubarashen School #11, a specialized boarding school for disabled children in Yerevan’s Nubarashen suburb, where she had volunteered. To her dismay, in August 2009, the then 29-year-old activist was charged with “false denunciation for illicit gain”—she was accused of intentionally slandering the teacher’s name and reputation for her own personal benefit.
In March 2010, Sukhudyan was awarded the U.S. Embassy of Armenia’s first ever Woman of Courage Award by U.S. Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch, who commended Mariam for her environmental and civic activism.
A day after receiving the U.S. ambassador’s award, Armenia’s law enforcement authorities announced that the criminal case against Sukhudyan had been officially dropped.
On May 24, Levon Avagian, the former Armenian language and literature teacher accused of sexually abusing his students at the Nubarashen, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by the Erebuni Court. Five former students—the “injured party”—came forward to testify.
The court found Avagian, who taught at Nubarashen between 1985-2008, guilty under two parts of Article 142 of the RA criminal code. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail under the first count, and 18 months under the second. Soon after this verdict, the school principal, Meruzhan Yengibaryan, who was accused of covering up the abuses, was removed from office by RA Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotyan.