On August 3, 2005 the hearing of the case against Natella Saghatelyan, a resident of Uzbekistan charged with violating Article 132 of the Criminal Code of Armenia (human trafficking) continued in the Court of First Instance of the Malatia-Sebastia District of Yerevan. The maximum punishment envisaged in Article 132 is four to eight years in prison. Natella Saghatelyan is accused of transporting residents of Uzbekistan to Dubai via Armenia – she managed to get two of them to Dubai (the third remained Yerevan ). The two Uzbek women were arrested at the Dubai airport for carrying false passports. They were held by the UAE Migration Service for five days, and then sent back to Armenia . Once the National Security Service of Armenia had conducted a preliminary investigation and determined that this was a case of human trafficking, it handed the case over to the Office of the Prosecutor General. In court on August 3, 2005 , one of the victims - 17-year-old resident of Uzbekistan Karine Yeremyan -testified as a witness in the case. The girl’s passport records her nationality as Uzbek. When she was a little girl, her father, Vazgen Yeremyan, sold their house and turned her and her sick mother out. Karine has been working since she was twelve to take care of her mother, mainly as a nanny.
This hearing was a classic example of how the interrogation of a minor should not be conducted. Judge Iskuhi Vardanyan’s attitude was strange, and suggested that she perceived the 17-year-old girl as the accused rather than the victim. For hours the girl underwent a cross-examination by the judge, the prosecutor, the accused, and her lawyer, who tried to prove that the girl wound up in Armenia bound for Dubai of her own free will.
At one point the judge addressed the audience, saying enthusiastically, “From now on, let us all fight against people like this!” She meant Karine, a minor. And the interpreter, for unknown reasons, did not translate the proceedings entirely, and kept adding his own remarks. From the attitude of the judge, the questions by the prosecutor, and the behavior of the accused, it is easy to predict what the outcome of the trial will be. The skillful Natella Saghatelyan will either receive a slap on the wrist or be acquitted of the charges entirely.
But the most disturbing thing is that there are no guidelines in our court system for handling and questioning minors. This girl was questioned without a lawyer present; there was no one defending her interests. When a woman representing an NGO participating in the trial tried to give to Karine, who was visibly upset and whose throat was parched in the hot courtroom, some tissues and water, Judge Vardanyan said angrily from her seat, “What are you fussing over her for? Nothing happened.”
Throughout the entire interrogation, the judge’s hostility toward the witness was palpable. One thing is clear - Judge Iskuhi Vardanyan should not have been allowed to preside over this trial without training in dealing with minors.
As for the Minister of Justice, he misses no opportunity to brag about the fruitless judicial reforms.