Georgia moves hunger-striking ex-leader Saakashvili to military hospital

Participants of the 'United National Movement' rally against the arrest of the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, 19 November 2021. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

Georgia on Saturday (20 November) moved jailed opposition leader and ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili to a military hospital from a prison clinic after doctors warned he risked death following a 50-day hunger strike.

The flamboyant pro-Western reformer launched a hunger strike after being jailed upon his return from exile in Ukraine on 1 October, saying his arrest was political.

On Thursday, Saakashvili, 53, fainted and doctors urged authorities to move him to a regular clinic, saying his life was in danger.

Georgian authorities had initially rejected the medical recommendations, but Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said Friday they were open to moving Saakashvili to a military hospital “where his health and security will be protected at most by the state.”

In the early hours on Saturday, Saakashvili “was transferred from a prison hospital to a military clinic” in the city of Gori, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of the capital Tbilisi, lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP.

On Friday evening, Saakashvili said he would end his hunger strike as soon as he is “transferred to an appropriate clinic.”

‘Illegal imprisonment’

“I will never accept my illegal imprisonment,” he said on Facebook, adding that he was ready to “appear before a fair trial and accept any verdict it delivers.”

In 2018, Saakashvili was sentenced in absentia to six years in jail for “abuse of office” — charges he had rejected as trumped up and politically motivated.

The United States Department of State has urged the Georgian authorities to “treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity, including right to fair trial.”

US urges Georgia to treat ex-president on hunger strike with dignity

The United States on Thursday (18 November) urged Georgia to provide humane treatment to jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on a hunger strike for weeks is now reported to be in critical condition.

“As soon as I am set free, I’ll join you — as equal among equals — in rebuilding our country,” Saakashvili wrote in an address to the nation.

He thanked Georgians for the “unbelievable show of solidarity and humanity” and called for a campaign “to liberate the country” from the rule of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party.

“I believe in our victory as never before.”

Georgia’s richest man Ivanishvili — former prime minister and founder of the Georgian Dream — is widely seen as the man in charge in Georgia, despite having no official political role.

Critics accuse the government he allegedly controls of using prosecutions to punish political opponents and critical journalists.

‘Political revenge’

Doctor Giorgi Grigolia, who had seen Saakashvili on Thursday, told AFP that his condition was “life threatening” and that “he must be moved to a civilian clinic without delay.”

He cited a number of neurological and heart conditions that “could become irreversible, fatal without a proper care, which is impossible in the medical facility” where was being treated at the time.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that Georgia must ensure Saakashvili’s “safety in prison, and to provide him with appropriate medical care for the post-hunger-strike recovery period.”

Saakashvili was moved last week to a prison hospital where, Amnesty International said, he had been “denied dignity” as well as adequate care.

The rights group on Twitter described it as “selective justice” and “apparent political revenge.”

Saakashvili has said he was assaulted by prison guards and that he feared for his life.

Georgia’s president from 2004-2013, he left the country after his second and last term expired and had since lived in exile in Ukraine, where he headed a government agency steering reforms.

Saakashvili’s arrest after his return to Georgia has deepened a political crisis that erupted after parliamentary polls last year that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.

It has also spurred some of the largest anti-government protests in a decade.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sparked an uproar recently by saying Saakashvili “has the right to commit suicide” and that the government had been forced to arrest him because he had refused to quit politics.

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