The issue of transferring jailed Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, on a hunger strike since October 1, to a medical facility has triggered controversy over the past days.
The government says that the former President will be taken to the No. 18 prison hospital if his condition worsens. The decision is strongly opposed by Saakashvili’s personal doctor, defense lawyers, and the Public Defender who, citing various reasons, have recommended former President’s transfer to a private hospital.
Speaking with reporters on October 25, Georgian Justice Minister Rati Bregadze reiterated that if needed, the No. 18 prison clinic was ready to admit Mikheil Saakashvili.
The Minister also noted that the council of doctors – a group of physicians appointed by the authorities on October 13 to monitor Saakashvili’s health – in their report recommended his transfer to “a multi-profile” clinic, which does not mean only a civilian hospital.
Referring to the information provided by the doctors, Minister Bregadze said that the prison’s medical facility “meets all necessary criteria to manage the health of a hunger-striking inmate.”
After visiting medical facility No. 18, Georgian Deputy Health Minister Tamar Gabunia said on October 24 that it has all the necessary equipment to provide safe medical assistance, including emergency aid, intensive therapy and resuscitation.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili opposes transferring ex-President Saakashvili to a private medical facility. Several times in recent days, the PM stressed that Saakashvili “will not enjoy any privileges” and if needed, he will be taken to medical facility No. 18.
PM Garibashvili said that according to some plans, Saakashvili, aiming to be transferred to a private clinic, “would resort to simulations” as if the hunger strike had aggravated the state of his health. On October 30, PM continued, his supporters “would remove” the former President from the clinic and “liberate” him.
“But [like their other plans], this plan will fail too,” the Prime Minister added.
According to the 2020 performance report of the Special Penitentiary Service, 585 inmates were transferred to civilian clinics for inpatient care.
Remarks by Saakashvili’s defense lawyers
Saakashvili’s defense lawyers dubbed the Justice Minister’s statement “a petty lie.” Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, one of the lawyers, said that the doctors’ council made it clear that the Ex-President’s medical treatment should be continued in “a multi-profile clinic, where it is possible to perform magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and duplex scanning” that is impossible at a prison hospital.
Sadzaglishvili also noted that instead of caring for Saakashvili’s health, the government is guided by political decisions and puts the ex-President’s life at huge risk.
Beka Basilaia, another defense lawyer, said that the government does not consider the security risks. He noted that “the President who defeated organized crime cannot be left among the representatives of the criminal world.”
Speaking at a news briefing on October 24, Nika Gvaramia, director of the opposition-minded Mtavari Arkhi TV channel and Saakashvili’s defense lawyer, focused on possible security risks, saying that “the government plans to imitate a prison riot that will end with Saakashvili’s liquidation.”
Shortly after making this statement, Gvaramia was summoned to the Justice Ministry’s General Inspection for questioning.
Reports emerged on October 25 that a cardiologist Zurab Pagava quit the doctors’ council citing his own health problems.
“Everything is quite clearly defined: what kind of analyses should be done, when the issue of hospitalization should be raised, and what kind of a hospital is recommended – a multi-profile, qualified, category C hospital,” he told Formula TV on October 25.
Hematologist Nino Sharashenidze, another member of the council, also stressed the need of transferring Saakashvili to a category C hospital. “We strictly demanded to ensure the possibility of all necessary laboratory research,” Sharashenidze told Mtavari Arkhi TV.
She also said that Saakashvili’s health condition is in line with the period of his hunger strike and that he has no “life-threatening complications.”
Civil.ge tried to clarify more details from the report issued by the doctors’ council. The Justice Ministry said that they had no access to the document, while the Health Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service noted that the information was confidential.
Public Defender’s statement
After monitoring the readiness of medical facility No. 18 for the possible admission of the former President, the Public Defender’s Office said on October 24 that the situation in the facility, in terms of medical care, “does not fully comply” with the report or recommendations issued by the doctor’s council.
The Public Defender’s Office said that facility No. 18 will not be able to provide the medical services indicated by the multifunctional group of doctors. For example, the facility cannot provide magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, or duplex scanning.
In addition, the Office said, the facility does not currently have a resuscitation specialist. In response, the Justice Minister clarified on October 25 that facility No. 18 already had a resuscitation specialist.
With this in mind, the Ombudsperson said Mikheil Saakashvili’s transfer to a civilian clinic will appear on the agenda.
It also noted that “there are certain risks” with respect to Mikheil Saakashvili as the former President is planned to be transferred to the ward which accommodates prisoners who have a conflict of interest with Saakashvili.
The Public Defender noted that despite the prison administration’s readiness to “ensure the safety of any prisoner,” the establishment’s “infrastructure and environment fail to exclude the risk of verbal aggression and noise, verbal abuse, and psychological pressure by certain groups of prisoners” against Saakashvili.
Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested on October 1, a day before the local elections. The Prosecutor’s Office said Saakashvili arrived in Georgia from Ukraine on September 28. According to the prosecution, the ex-President traveled from Chernomorsk port in Ukraine to Poti port in Georgia via a ship named “Vilnius.” Saakashvili is on the 26th day of his hunger strike.
Saakashvili, now a Ukrainian citizen, left the country in November 2013 amidst the end of his second presidential term. He was wanted by the Georgian Dream government on multiple charges for some eight years.
The former President was sentenced in absentia in 2018 on two separate abuse of power charges – three years for pardoning the former Interior Ministry officials, convicted in the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani, and six years for organizing an attack on opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili.
He is also charged with misappropriation of public funds and exceeding official authority in the 2007 anti-government protests case. Former President denies all the charges as politically motivated.
New charges involving illegal border crossing were brought against Saakashvili on September 20 under Article 344 of the Criminal Code, punishable by three to five years of prison.