By Anush Martirosian
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, began his visit to Armenia Thursday to assess progress made by the Armenian government in dealing with the consequences of the country’s worst post-election crisis.
During his three-day fact-finding trip, the official is due to hold a series of meetings with Armenia’s top leadership, including President Serzh Sarkisian, Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, as well as top representative of the police and the prosecutor’s office.
Hammarberg also plans to meet with Samvel Nikoyan, the head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission conducting a probe into the deadly post-election clashes, as well as with the members of the newly established group of experts involved in a simultaneous inquiry.
The Strasbourg official is also expected to have meetings with representatives of the local political opposition, civic society groups and international organizations based in Armenia.
On Thursday, Hammarberg met with Armenia’s Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian. The latter told RFE/RL that the discussion focused on oppositionists who are currently in custody for their alleged roles in the March 1 unrest.
“I presented my general concerns over the facts that I possess,” Harutiunian said, adding that among Hammarberg’s primary concerns is the continuing imprisonment of opposition leaders and the course of the preliminary investigations into the March 1-related cases.
Also on Thursday, Hammarberg met with members of the Fact-Finding Group.
Seda Safarian, representing the opposition Heritage party in the group, told RFE/RL that during the meeting they discussed matters connected with the group’s work and possible assistance through involvement of independent experts.
Hammarberg is currently on his third visit to Yerevan after the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces, which left at least 10 people dead and sparked mass arrests of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have all along demanded that the authorities in Yerevan restore civil liberties, release all political prisoners and allow an independent inquiry into the bloody unrest. The PACE threatened to strip its Armenian members of their voting rights if Yerevan fails to meet these demands by next January.
Hammarberg was reportedly in meeting with Ter-Petrosian on Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, about three dozen Ter-Petrosian supporters currently jailed on March 1-related charges have gone on a 24-hour hunger strike, timing their action to the Strasbourg official’s visit.
Hammarberg plans to visit the penitentiaries and meet detainees on Friday, a Justice Ministry official confirmed to RFE/RL.