On November 19, jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili was finally transferred to Gori Military Hospital after being on hunger strike for 50 days. Detained on October 1 after illegally entering Georgia, Saakashvili, who has been sentenced in absentia to six years in prison, has since been protesting what he believes to be a politically motivated persecution.
The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) government officials have repeatedly rejected transferring Saakashvili to a multi-profile civilian clinic over the irrational fears that Saakashvili’s supporters would storm the facility and “kidnap” the ex-President. At times, the GD leaders have even claimed that Saakashvili had been faking the hunger strike, eating different types of food. To back up these claims, the government published video footage showing Saakashvili apparently receiving nutritional supplements in a prison infirmary – a common practice with those hunger-striking for longer periods. However, claims that Saakashvili somehow broke his hunger strike was refuted by the GD itself, when, on November 8, Georgia’s ex-President was transferred from Rustavi prison to Gldani prison, equipped with a hospital, “in order to prevent his health from deteriorating” – something that Saakashvili himself, his family members, doctors, lawyers and Public Defender have opposed due to safety reasons. Answering those critical of the decision on transferring Saakashvili to Gldani prison, the Special Penitentiary Service of Georgia said that the ex-President left Rustavi prison upon his will. The agency even posted a video footage on Facebook, showing Saakashvili leaving the prison without being forced to do so. However, according to the statement published on Saakashvili’s Facebook page, he was in fact “deceitfully moved” to Gldani prison after being told in Rustavi prison that he was going to be taken to a regular, civilian clinic in the city. Later, on November 11, the Special Penitentiary Service of Georgia published additional videos. In one of them, Saakashvili, sitting in the ambulance car, is seen refusing to enter Gldani prison, demanding to be taken back to Rustavi jail immediately. Another video shows Saakashvili being dragged by several men and forcefully placed in the prison clinic ward.
A group of doctors and physicians set up by the Public Defender to monitor medical services provided to Saakashvili at the penitentiary clinic concluded on November 17 that “Due to the critical condition of the patient, it is recommended to immediately continue his treatment in a well-functioning and well-experienced poly-profile hospital”. Saakashvili’s health condition significantly deteriorated on November 18, when he temporarily lost consciousness and was subsequently transferred to an intensive care unit of the prison clinic.
Reluctant to transfer Saakashvili to a better equipped hospital, the GD was urged to make such a decision by the international society. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, the US ambassador Kelly Degnan, EU ambassador, Carl Harzel, called on the ruling GD to immediately provide “proper medical care” and to guarantee the “rights and due legal process for jailed ex-President.” Amnesty International has assessed the situation as “Not just selective justice but apparent political revenge” against ex-President Saakashvili. A delegation of European politicians consisting of the former Polish Foreign Minister and now MEP Anna Fotyga and Lithuanian MP and Chairman of the parliamentary friendship group with Georgia Raimondas Lopata was refused the permit to visit Saakashvili in prison. In response to the concerns expressed, however, the GD chairperson, Irakli Kobakhidze issued a sharp criticism of Georgia’s Western partners. “From now on, when evaluating the steps of our foreign partners, we will be guided by the main principle […] that the Georgian state will not cooperate with people, who due to their political bias towards the criminals, don’t recognize our state as [a full-fledged] state,” wrote Kobakhidze.
The Russian state media has reacted to the arrest and treatment of Saakashvili with jubilation and cheer. The ex-President is portrayed as a war criminal, a Western stooge now justly imprisoned by the Georgian Government. Russian coverage is in stark contrast with the Western coverage, which emphasizes that despite all the shortcomings of Saakashvili rule, Georgian Dream’s mistreatment of ex-President may be pushing the situation over the brink and pulling Georgia further away from the Western family into the Kremlin orbit.