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Georgia: Mikheil Saakashvili's prison sentence 'should not mean a death sentence'


Former president denied medical care, putting him at grave risk of death

Saakashvili has been in detention for 16 months and is suffering from serious psychological, neurological, orthopedic and gastrointestinal conditions

‘The denial of adequate medical care to Mikheil Saakashvili may amount to torture’ - Denis Krivosheev

The Georgian authorities are denying former president Mikheil Saakashvili adequate medical care, putting him at grave risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to his health, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

Two independent medical teams have concluded that Saakashvili has developed a number of life-threatening health conditions while in custody for the past 16 months.

According to one of the medical teams, Saakashvili is suffering from psychological, neurological, orthopedic and gastrointestinal conditions that threaten his life and require medical treatment that is currently unavailable in Georgia. According to independent medical experts who visited Saakashvili on 19 February, his health further had deteriorated since their previous visit in December, and he will soon face irreversible organ damage.

Georgian law provides for courts to grant the release of seriously-ill prisoners - though such requests are often denied. On 6 February, a court in Tbilisi declined Saakashvili’s motion filed in December to defer or suspend his sentence on medical grounds, a decision which Saakashvili’s lawyers have appealed against.

Medical decisions on the need for ongoing medical care and observation outside of prison or on releasing inmates on grounds of medical necessity should be taken by the responsible health care professionals and not overruled or ignored by non-medical authorities. Georgian law should allow for health care professionals to assess the needs of their patients in prison and allow for them to be transferred to adequate facilities or for medical release where necessary.

The authorities have yet to respond to concerns outlined in a joint letter by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to the Georgian Ministry of Justice on 10 February.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said:

“The denial of adequate medical care to Mikheil Saakashvili may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and is putting his life at grave risk.

“Deaths in custody resulting from the deliberate denial of health care amount to arbitrary deprivation of life, which is a serious violation under international human rights law.

“The Georgian authorities should urgently take measures to protect Saakashvili’s health, including considering his release on medical grounds.”

Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Director, said:

“A prison sentence should not mean a death sentence, where treatable conditions tragically become fatal.

“The Georgian authorities need to humanise this aspect of the country’s criminal justice system and bring it in line with international standards.

“They should start by providing remedies that guarantee prompt medical care, and where necessary, that envisage release from custody of anyone who, because of their state of health, is considered incapable of remaining in detention.”

Violation of international fair trial norms

Mikheil Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004-2013, is serving a six-year sentence on two cases of abuse of power in relation to the beating of Valery Gelashvili, an opposition politician, by police special forces in 2005. Saakashvili was tried and sentenced in absentia in 2018. Absentia convictions violate international fair trial norms. He was arrested following his return to Georgia on 1 October 2021 and is facing additional abuse of power charges. His supporters say the charges are politically motivated.

Deteriorating health

Saakashvili’s health has deteriorated rapidly during his detention, and according to reports he has lost more than 50 kilograms in weight and developed serious psychological, orthopedic and gastrointestinal health conditions. A forensic medical report published on 1 December concluded that he requires urgent treatment currently unavailable in Georgia. On 6 December a separate report by another group of medical experts appointed by the Georgian Public Defender confirmed Saakashvili’s health conditions were “severe” and that there needed to be an urgent change to his “ineffective treatment”. The Georgian authorities maintain that Saakashvili’s health has deteriorated as a result of “self-harm” caused by several hunger strikes, saying he is receiving adequate medical care in Vivamedi, a private clinic in Tbilisi.

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