Saakashvili ends 50-day hunger strike

Saakashvili ends 50-day hunger strike
A stencil in Tbilisi demanding Saakashvili's release.
By bne IntelliNews November 22, 2021

Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili has ended his 50-day hunger strike after authorities agreed to move him to a military hospital.

According to reports, Saakashvili agreed to end his protest on November 19 after authorities agreed to his request for a transfer from a prison hospital where an independent rights commissioner had said he was being abused by fellow inmates and not receiving appropriate medical treatment.

Saakashvili has claimed he was assaulted by prison guards and that he feared for his life. The government, which has rejected his claims, had turned a blind eye to Saakashvili’s deteriorating condition, with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili saying recently that he “has the right to commit suicide”.

His arrest and treatment in prison has sparked mass protests and criticism from the US State Department. The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that Georgia must ensure Saakashvili’s “safety in prison, and to provide him with appropriate medical care for the post-hunger-strike recovery period”.

On November 18, Saakashvili fainted and doctors urged authorities to move him to a regular clinic, saying his life was in danger.

Doctor Giorgi Grigolia, who had seen Saakashvili on Thursday, told AFP that his condition was “life threatening” and that “he must be moved to a civilian clinic without delay”.

He cited a number of neurological and heart conditions that “could become irreversible, fatal without a proper care, which is impossible in the medical facility” where he was being treated at the time.

Georgian authorities initially rejected the doctors’ recommendations, but Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said on Friday they were open to moving Saakashvili to a military hospital “where his health and security will be protected at most by the state”.

Reuters TV footage showed a convoy including two ambulances departing late on November 19 from the prison where Saakashvili, 53, had been held in the capital Tbilisi, en route to the military hospital in the town of Gori.

In a statement quoted by the Sputnik Georgia news service, the former president said he would resume eating after the transfer but would never accept his “illegal detention”.

“I will never accept my illegal imprisonment,” he said on Facebook, adding that he was ready to “appear before a fair trial and accept any verdict it delivers.”

His personal doctor, Nokoloz Kipshidze, said “[former] president Saakashvili formally called off his hunger strike right after he was transferred to the Gori military hospital”.

“He still is in a life-threatening condition and was placed in an intensive care ward,” Kipshidze told AFP news agency, adding that Saakashvili’s “re-feeding will begin later on Saturday”.

The former president and founder of the main opposition party was convicted in absentia In 2018 to six years in jail for abuse of office. He began his hunger strike after being jailed upon his return from exile in Ukraine on 1 October, saying the charges and his arrest were political.

Georgia’s Public Defenders Office has said that Saakashvili is still not receiving the right to a fair trial, being barred from his own hearings.

Saakashvili’s arrest after his return to Georgia has deepened a political crisis that erupted after parliamentary polls last year that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.