Jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, under treatment at the Gori military hospital since November 19, was transferred back to the Rustavi prison early on December 30.
Reports of Saakashvili’s transfer emerged at around 02:30 in the morning. The Special Penitentiary Service eventually confirmed that the ex-President had indeed been taken back to prison at 12:00 on the same day, nearly ten hours later.
Saakashvili’s lawyer Nika Gvaramia met the ex-President at the Rustavi prison later in the day, providing details about his transfer and health condition to reporters afterward. According to Gvaramia’s account, Saakashvili is groggy, finds it hard to communicate or walk, and had to be brought down from his cell to the meeting room with the help of two prison servants.
Gvaramia said the controversial discharge from the military hospital was based on “a fake diagnosis.” Claiming he saw the doctor’s December 27 and 30 forms on Saakashvili’s condition, he argued the documents did not include Wernicke encephalopathy, an acute neurological condition the ex-President suffered from. According to Gvaramia, the diagnosis indicated that Saakashvili suffered from dysmetabolic encephalopathy instead, a less severe disease.
The lawyer highlighted that the ex-President “is worse off” than he was during the initial transfer from Rustavi penitentiary to the Gldani prison hospital in November.
Also, according to Gvaramia Saakashvili has not regained any weight during his treatment at the military clinic following the 50-day-long hunger strike. “To say it frankly, the Gori hospital turned out to carry only one function for Saakashvili – that he would not die,” said the lawyer.
Continuing about the return to Rustavi prison, Gvaramia said penitentiary employees did not physically abuse the ex-President, also noting that Saakashvili was physically unable to resist the transfer anyways.
However, according to the lawyer, the penitentiary employees had warned Saakashvili en route to Rustavi that he would be taken to the Gldani prison hospital if he fell ill. “This is a direct threat of torture,” Gvaramia maintained.
He stressed that the key aim of Saakashvili’s defense is now to secure his rehabilitation and treatment outside Georgia’s penitentiary system as well as possibly abroad the country.
The development comes as the ex-President previously resisted his transfer on December 27, with the move being postponed temporarily. The Georgian authorities argue Saakashvili no longer requires his rehabilitative treatment and the military clinic has discharged him.
Georgian, Ukrainian Public Defenders comment on the transfer
The Public Defender’s Office stated the decision to transfer Saakashvili was made without the involvement of the council of doctors appointed by authorities to monitor and assess the ex-President’s health.
It also highlighted that a neurologist from the group of physicians convened by the Public Defender as well as a representative of the ombudsperson were not allowed to enter the Gori military hospital on December 27, to assess his condition or see his medical records.
According to the statement, representatives of the Public Defender twice tried to meet Saakashvili on December 30 after his transfer, but he could not be interviewed due to his health condition. They nevertheless examined medical records and spoke with doctors and administrative staff, who had noted that Saakashvili was not ill-treated during the transfer.
Ukrainian Public Defender Lyudmyla Denisova on her part said she was outraged by the “impressively cynical” way the transfer was handled – without notifying lawyers while Saakashvili’s condition had remained critical and concerning.
She argued Saakashvili’s treatment by Georgian authorities could be seen as torture and a way of depriving the ex-President of the right to life.
She pointed to several international human rights treaties that Georgian authorities might have breached, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Articles 6, 7, 9, 14, 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
She called on foreign states and international organizations to condemn the actions of Georgian authorities and urge Georgia to “restore [Saakashvili’s] rights.”
This article was updated at 20:12, December 30 with statements by Georgian and Ukrainian Public Defenders.