Police Drop Case Against Activist

Mariam Sukhudyan's press conference

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Law-enforcement authorities in Armenia said on Thursday that they have formally closed a highly controversial criminal case against a youth activist who helped to trigger a scandal about alleged sexual and other abuse at a Yerevan school for disabled children.

They also announced criminal proceedings against a former school teacher who was accused by some of his students of sexual harassment.

The announcement came the day after Sukhudian publicly received an award from the U.S. Embassy in Armenia for her civic activism and volunteer work at the state-run boarding school located in Yerevan’s southern Nubarashen suburb. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch praised the 30-year activist of the SOS Teghut environment protection group for exposing “neglect and abuse of children” there.

The award and Yovanovitch’s remarks effectively challenged an accusation of “slander” that was leveled against Sukhudian by the police department of the Erebuni and Nubarashen districts last year. The department claimed until now that she had persuaded a teenage schoolgirl to falsely incriminate the teacher, Levon Avagian, for “personal gain.”

In a written statement, the Office of the Prosecutor-General said a prosecutor monitoring the high-profile case has instructed the Yerevan police to drop the charge and that the latter has duly executed the order. It said the Erebuni police had “interpreted evidence collected earlier in a peculiar way.”

“Besides, there has been collected new evidence, the analysis of which has not substantiated the accusation leveled against M. Sukhudian,” said the statement. More importantly, it announced that the police have launched a new criminal investigation into “obscene acts against minors” possibly committed at the Nubarashen school.

Avagian, the teacher at the center of the scandal, was previously cleared of any wrongdoing as recently as one year ago. Nonetheless, he quit the school about the same time.

Sukhudian told RFE/RL that she received a copy of the police decision to stop prosecuting her on Thursday. “They said they were looking for me and only found me today,” he said, adding that the document was dated March 9.

Asked whether she believes it was the result of the demonstrative U.S. support for her case, Sukhudian replied: “There is no doubt that the publicity that this case has received and the embassy’s intervention have made them sober up. Things just could not coincide in this way.”

Sukhudian added that she and other young people who worked at the school as volunteers in 2008 will closely monitor the new police probe and continue to press the Armenian authorities to improve conditions there. “It is absurd that those children remain at the mercy of the same school personnel,” she said.



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