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Lawyers Concerned over Merabishvili’s Health Condition

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Lawyers of Georgia’s former Prime Minister, Vano Merabishvili, who remains in custody since 2013, express concerns over his aggravated health condition and demand proper medical treatment for him, with opposition parties calling for his immediate release from prison.

Speaking to Rustavi 2 TV on September 23, Merabishvili’s lawyers said over the past few months, the inmate was transferred to hospital several times, but intensive medical treatment yielded no results. They also said Merabishvili suffers from the Horner syndrome caused by an unknown disease, listing deliberate poisoning among possible causes.

In response to the lawyers’ allegations, the Special Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice released a statement on September 24, rejecting the reports that the former top official’s health condition is grave. The Penitentiary Service also denied that Merabishvili was poisoned, and added that he has been receiving adequate treatment all along.

The Special Penitentiary Service unveiled Vano Merabishvili’s diagnosis as well, citing “high public interest.” According to their statement, the former Prime Minister suffers from vasomotor rhinitis, Horner syndrome and blepharitis-conjunctivitis.

Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili was arrested in late May 2013 and charged with misspending and vote-buying; other set of criminal charges were filed against him later – all of them denied by Merabishvili as politically motivated. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison terms in several separate trials in 2014. His imprisonment term expires in 2020.

Disclosure of Merabishvili’s diagnosis drew criticism from CSOs. A group of eight watchdogs issued a statement on September 25, slamming the decision as “violation of fundamental rights of the Constitution of Georgia and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The group also called on the Personal Data Protection Inspector to react to the issue, as well as on the Penitentiary Service to ensure the inmate’s proper examination and treatment.

The Penitentiary Service responded to the accusations in a statement on September 25, saying the lawyers’ statement that Merabishvili is not getting adequate treatment “is a lie.” It then listed all medical treatments that the ex-PM had received in the last two months, expressing hope that it “will put an end to political speculations over the convict’s health condition.”

The Special Penitentiary Service touched upon the CSO statement as well. It said the diagnosis was published “only after the lawyers themselves made it public and started misleading the inmate’s family and the public on Vano Merabishvili’s health condition.”

Political reactions

Commenting on the lawyers’ claims that Merabishvili was not getting adequate treatment, majority leader Archil Talakvadze said the GDDG  government “spares no efforts to make sure that every inmate, including Vano Merabishvili, enjoys the same medical treatment standards as guaranteed for all citizens of Georgia.”

He also stressed the development shows “the difference between the prison systems under Vano Merabishvili and under the incumbent government.” “A convict and his lawyers can [now freely] voice their positions, get alternative medical assessments, undergo examination in civilian hospitals and make it a matter of public discussion, while years ago it was exactly Vano Merabishvili and his teammates who were punishing the people for the very same reason, which, unfortunately, oftentimes led to death,” Talakvadze added.

Talakvadze’s assessments were not accepted in the opposition. Representatives of the United National Movement and the European Georgia claim Vano Merabishvili is mistreated by the authorities and call for his immediate release.

In its ruling delivered on November 28, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said pretrial detention of Vano Merabishvili in 2013 was justified in the beginning, but later on the predominant purpose became to obtain information on unrelated cases, including the one against former President Mikheil Saakashvili.

MP Otar Kakhidze of the European Georgia convened a press briefing on September 25, calling on the Georgian government to follow the practice on similar ECHR rulings and release the former Prime Minister. Zurab Melikishvili of the United National Movement echoed Kakhidze’s calls, while Mamuka Gamkrelidze of the UNM-led coalition urged President Giorgi Margvelashvili to pardon the inmate before the end of his tenure.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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