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Public Defender Slams Penitentiary Publishing Inmate Saakashvili’s Footage

Public Defender of Georgia on November 6 criticized the release of footage purporting to show former President Mikheil Saakashvili taking in sustenance in the N12 Rustavi prison’s medical facility. The footage apparently lent support to the Georgian Dream government’s claims that jailed Saakashvili has broken his hunger strike – which Ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria, based on medical and prison records, affirms is not the case.

The Ombudsperson stressed that portraying taking medically advised food supplements as breaking a hunger strike could push hunger-striking inmates to refuse receiving medicines and fluids. Disseminating incorrect information publicly harms the rights of not only Saakashvili, but all inmates, the Public Defender stressed.

The footage was published by the Special Penitentiary Service on November 6. The State Inspector’s Service, an agency tasked with overseeing data privacy, said on November 7 that it opened an inquest to examine the lawfulness of obtaining and disseminating the footage. The Inspector also underlined the importance of protecting a hunger-striking inmate’s privacy and the dangers of undermining their trust in the institution and medical staff that surround them.

The Public Defender reaffirmed that Saakashvili has not eaten any food since he declared the strike on October 1, the day of his detention. The Ombudsperson, following a conversation with the prison’s medical staff, clarified that Saakashvili has been receiving small amounts of juice and mineral purée for medical purposes, due to his health condition.

According to the ombudsperson, the ex-President started consuming the supplements from October 30 after the head of the prison’s medical department convinced him that receiving the products “was a medical necessity and a substitute for medication.”

In response to the footage being released, Saakashvili said in an address penned from jail he would no longer receive any supplements.

The Special Penitentiary Service published the footage a day after Justice Minister Rati Bregadze told Rustavi 2 TV that Saakashvili was “consuming food products,” arguing the ex-President “voluntarily took various kinds of porridges and natural juices … and continues to do so.”

Georgian Dream Responses

Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze said today that Saakashvili’s hunger-strike turned out to be “fake.” Throwing support to the Special Penitentiary Service for releasing the footage, MP Kobakhidze argued the issue was in the public in public interest.

After the footage was released, GD MP Mamuka Mdinaradze dubbed on November 6 Saakashvili’s hunger-strike “fake hungering” and hailed “one more lie that has been brought to light.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili as well as several ruling Georgian Dream lawmakers had raised doubts over genuineness of Saakashvili’s hunger strike, and accused him of taking honey, supplements or other food.

UNM Responses

Levan Khabeishvili of UNM assessed the publication of Saakashvili’s footage as an example of the “torture and psychological pressure” the ex-President faces in the jail. He stressed that in the recording Saakashvili is seen in a doctor’s room, taking necessary supplements under doctor’s supervision.

Gigi Ugulava, UNM-era Tbilisi Mayor, called the recording “a disgusting propaganda” and argued that the purpose of this “provocation” was to make Saakashvili refuse medical supplements and “bring him to his death.”

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