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UNM gives Monday ultimatum for Saakashvili’s transfer to hospital

7 November 2021
Protesters outside the Rustavi Prison 12 on 7 November 2021. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

The opposition United National Movement (UNM) has given the Georgian Government 24 hours to transfer former President Mikheil Saakashvili to a civilian hospital.

On Saturday, several thousand people including a number of opposition figures gathered outside the Rustavi Prison 12, where the former president is currently on hunger strike. 

The authorities have insisted that the penitentiary service’s facilities are adequate to provide treatment to the former president. 

Addressing the crowds, UNM Chair Nika Melia said there would be another protest on Monday in Tbilisi where they would announce their next move if the authorities did not cave to their demands.

‘We are giving the authorities a 24-hour deadline to transfer [Mikheil Saakashvili] to a civilian hospital’, UNM chair Nika Melia said. Photo: Tata Shoshiashvili/OC Media.

Melia also named Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party who has since formally retired from politics, as being personally responsible for Saakashvili’s health.

The UNM and their allies have avoided organising a demonstration this Sunday despite initially planning to do so. The date coincides with the anniversary of a 2007 crackdown on anti-government protests during Saakashvili’s rule. 

The protest leaders also announced there would be a ‘permanent’ protest outside Rustavi Prison with several dozen people setting up around-the-clock tents near the Prison.

At the end of the demonstration, police arrested at least one individual for petty hooliganism and disobeying police. According to nearby protesters, the arrests followed at least one of those arrested cursing at the government. 

Several hours before the protest, Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) claimed that ‘certain political groups’ were ‘actively discussing […] the assassination of an oppositoin leader’, and the blockading of Rustavi Prison and several key state buildings during Saturday’s demonstration. The SSG previously faced criticism for making a similar claim about an alleged coup plot on 29 October.

‘A snotty bastard’

The authorities have continued to insist that the hospital in the Gldani Prison in Tbilisi is fit to provide all necessary medical services for the former President in the event of any complications due to his hunger strike. 

This was contradicted by a statement issued by the Georgian Public Defender’s Office on 5 November. The statement said that despite recent improvements, the hospital at Gldani Prison lacked a catheterisation laboratory or magnetic resonance imaging, which a special concilium of doctors convened to monitor the health of the former president had said would be necessary. 

Additionally, the Public Defender said that Saakashvili would likely face psychological pressure and security risks at the prison hospital.

As Saturday’s demonstration near the Rustavi Prison heated up, the Special Penitentiary Service, citing the high public interest, released footage allegedly showing Saakashvili ‘consuming food and natural juices throughout the day’. The Penitentiary Service also followed up with an image of products that he allegedly consumed. 

Footage released by the Penitentiary Service allegedly showing Mikheil Saakashvili eating.

The news caused discontent among the protesters outside. Addressing the crowd, Gigi Ugulava, a longtime Saakashvili ally and former mayor of Tbilisi, called Justice Minister Rati Bregadze ‘a snotty bastard’ for the release of the footage.

Ugulava slammed Bregadze, whose ministry oversees the penitentiary system, for engaging in ‘propaganda’ against Saakashvili.

The Public Defender reported on Friday evening that everything that Saakashvili had consumed was for ‘medical purposes’ and that the hunger strike he started on 1 October should still be considered as ongoing. 

Saakashvili was arrested on 1 October after he smuggled himself into the country on the eve of local elections. He faces six years in prison after being convicted in absentia in 2018 on several counts of abuse of power, including ordering an attack on political opponent Valeri Gelashvili and illegally promising to pardon law enforcement officers implicated in the 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani.

He now faces additional charges of illegal border entry.

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