Supporters of jailed Mikheil Saakashvili today held rallies in Tbilisi, the capital, the coastal city of Batumi, and outside the Rustavi Prison as calls have mounted over the past weeks for the ex-President’s transfer abroad for treatment.
The series of rallies came after the group of physicians assembled by Public Defender Nino Lomjaria on April 27 issued an evaluation, saying Saakashvili’s health had deteriorated further, suffering from “protein starvation” and “losing weight quickly.”
The former President’s supporters, family, and political allies see a transfer abroad as means to provide the ex-President with the necessary treatment — “complex neuro-psychological and physical rehabilitation” — as outlined by the Public Defender’s experts.
The ex-President’s father, Nikoloz Saakashvili, who spearheaded yesterday’s rally outside the Government Chancellery, told Mtavari Arkhi TV on May 5 that the only demand at this stage is that that “they preserve Misha’s [Mikheil’s] life.”
“His condition is in reality, very serious,” he told the government-critical TV channel, adding that it is impossible to treat the ex-President’s illnesses in Georgia.
“We are not asking for him to be freed, or for him to avoid the sentencing,” the former President’s father asserted, going on to claim that Saakashvili would return to Georgia following treatment to “prove that he really is an innocent man.”
The ex-President’s ally, Nika Melia, chair of the United National Movement, has expressed confidence that “in the near future Saakashvili will be transferred to a clinic abroad.”
Speaking with government-critical TV Pirveli, Melia argued on May 5 that amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the opinion has ripened among the international community that Saakashvili, who during his presidency faced a “barbaric invasion from Russia” should not remain incarcerated.
“Not just because of his current health condition, not because the [group of experts] said that Saakashvili could not recover in the conditions of the penitentiary but simply because he should not be a hostage,” Melia declared.
The opposition leader said the UNM plans to be proactive abroad to garner support for Saakashvili’s transfer.
In light of the group of experts’ findings, U.S. Ambassador on May 5 urged the Georgian Dream Government “to take the Public Defender’s recommendations very seriously.”
“We’re all following Mr. Saakashvili’s condition very closely. We have urged that he be seen by qualified medical professionals and that he be treated by qualified medical professionals,” the diplomat noted.
Meanwhile, the European People’s Party (EPP) in a statement on May 5 expressed extreme concern about “the reports of the dire and deteriorating health condition of former President Mikheil Saakashvili.”
“The Government of Georgia is responsible for the physical and mental health of the 3rd President of Georgia,” the EPP proclaimed. “This is not a matter of political choice, but a fundamental human right.”
Georgian Dream Government’s Stance
Minister of Justice Rati Bregadze spoke with the pro-government Imedi TV on May 2 to deny the accusations leveled at the authorities of the former President’s ill-treatment.
“This entire period purposeful campaign against the Justice Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service has been spread that has made it seem as though Mikheil Saakashvili is not being provided the necessary medical care,” the official claimed.
“This is false, he is receiving every kind of medicine that he requires, but is choosing not to take some of them,” the Justice Minister said.
“We have also heard that Saakashvili no longer has the option to consume food, which is also fiction,” Minister Bregadze added. “I want the public to know that Saakashvili can consume, just as any other convict, the three meals a day that we provide.”
Meanwhile, GD chair Irakli Kobakhidze claimed on May 4 that Saakashvili lies about his health condition, “trying to somehow escape from prison.”
“Naturally, this is ruled out,” he asserted, further stressing that no kind of “acting or self-harm” will become a reason for his release or transfer abroad.
The GD’s whip further went on to claim that the former President suffers from “mental problems.”
He also accused the opposition of an attempt to “artificially politicize” the issue of the ex-President’s health.
“Saakashvili should have known from the beginning that he was coming back to Georgia at a risk,” Kobakhidze said.
“In this country, he has committed numerous crimes, for specific crimes among them he is currently serving a sentence,” the ruling party’s leader went on, adding “he should have realized that an attempt at revolution would not have come without its risks.”
- Saakashvili’s Health Deteriorated Further, Ombudsperson’s Experts Say
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The ex-President’s treatment in the penitentiary system has been a subject of controversy since his detention in October, after returning from self-imposed exile back to Georgia on the eve of elections.
The former President, currently a citizen of Ukraine, is serving a six-year prison term after he 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.
Saakashvili denies all the charges as politically motivated.