The Georgian government said on Friday it was open to transferring former leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike for 50 days, to a military hospital after medics warned he risked death in his current prison clinic.
Thousands of Saakashvili supporters took to the streets on Friday evening, demanding that Saakashvili receive proper medical treatment.
The government’s announcement came after Saakashvili, 53, passed out and doctors urged authorities to transfer him to a regular clinic, saying his life was in danger.
The flamboyant pro-Western reformer went on a hunger strike after being jailed upon returning from exile in Ukraine on October 1, claiming his arrest was political.
Georgian authorities initially rejected the medical recommendations, but Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said on Friday they were prepared to relocate Saakashvili.
“Our proposal is to transfer him to a military hospital” in the town of Gori, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) west of the capital Tbilisi, Bregadze said at a press conference.
“It is a place where his health and safety will be maximally protected by the state,” Bregadze added.
Waving flags of Georgia and the European Union, several thousand Saakashvili supporters gathered outside parliament in Tbilisi on Friday evening.
Nika Melia, chairman of Saakashvili’s United National Movement Party (UNM) – Georgia’s main opposition force – said that “the rally will not disperse until Saakashvili is transferred to an appropriate clinic.”
– ‘Risk of fatal complications’ –
Saakashvili passed out on Thursday and was transferred to an intensive care unit at the prison hospital.
Doctor Giorgi Grigolia, who had seen Saakachvili on Thursday, told AFP that his condition was “in danger of death” and that he “must be transferred without delay to a civilian clinic”.
He cited a number of neurological and heart conditions that “could become irreversible, fatal without proper care, which is impossible in the medical facility where he is currently being treated.”
Grigolia is part of a council of doctors set up by the mediator Nino Lomjaria.
On Wednesday, the council said that “Saakashvili’s current situation is considered critical” and that he faces a risk of fatal complications in “the immediate future”.
The prison hospital where Saakashvili is being treated does not meet his medical needs, he added, calling for his immediate transfer to a civilian clinic.
A spokesman for the US State Department, Ned Price, urged the Georgian authorities Thursday evening to heed the recommendation and to “treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity”.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that Georgia must ensure “safety in Saakashvili prison and provide him with appropriate medical care for the recovery period after the hunger strike”.
Saakashvili said last week that he made the decision to end the hunger strike if transferred to a “high-tech clinic for post-hunger strike rehabilitation”.
– ‘Rejected from appropriate care’ –
Ahead of the Justice Minister’s announcement, Saakashvili’s lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili said the country’s prison service was “driven by political motives rather than medical considerations”.
“Despite repeated appeals from doctors, the government is denying Saakashvili his right to proper medical care,” Sadzaglishvili told AFP.
Saakashvili was transferred last week to a prison hospital where, according to Amnesty International, he was “deprived of his dignity” and of adequate treatment.
The rights group on Twitter described it as “selective justice” and “apparent political revenge.”
Saakashvili said he was assaulted by prison guards and feared for his life.
President of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, he left the country after the expiration of his second and final term and has since lived in exile in Ukraine, where he headed a government reform steering agency.
Saakashvili’s arrest after returning to Georgia has compounded a political crisis that erupted after last year’s parliamentary elections which the opposition denounced as fraudulent.
It also sparked some of the biggest anti-government protests of the decade.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili recently sparked an uproar by declaring that Saakashvili “has the right to commit suicide” and that the government was forced to arrest him because he refused to quit politics.
im / oc / pvh