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. The authorities have yet to respond to concerns the organizations outlined in a joint letter to the Georgian Ministry of Justice on 10 February 2023.
“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,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“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.”
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 them, a group of forensic medical experts, Saakashvili is suffering from psychological, neurological, orthopaedic and gastrointestinal conditions that threaten his life and require medical treatment that is not available in Georgia. Furthermore, according to independent medical experts under the auspices of the Public Defender, who visited Saakashvili on 19 February, his health further deteriorated since their previous visit in December 2022 and he will soon face irreversible organ damage.
Georgian law provides for courts to grant release of seriously ill prisoners; however, 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. Saakashvili’s lawyers have appealed the decision.
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.
“A prison sentence should not mean a death sentence, where treatable conditions tragically become fatal,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Georgian authorities need to humanize 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.
Mikheil Saakashvili, who served as President of Georgia 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.
Saakashvili’s health has rapidly deteriorated while he was in custody. He has lost more than 50 kilograms and developed serious psychological, orthopedic and gastrointestinal health conditions. The forensic medical report published on 1 December concluded that he requires urgent treatment that he could not receive 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,” requiring urgent change to his “ineffective treatment.”
The Georgian authorities contend that Saakashvili’s health has deteriorated as a result of “self-harm” caused by several hunger strikes. They say he is receiving adequate medical care in Vivamedi, a private clinic in Tbilisi.