(Berlin, March 2, 2023) – Georgian authorities are denying former President Mikheil Saakashvili adequate medical care, putting him at great risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to his health, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities have not yet responded to the concerns outlined by the organizations in a joint letter to Georgia’s Ministry of Justice dated February 10, 2023.
“Denial of adequate medical care to Mikheil Saakashvili may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and puts his life at great 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 constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life in serious violation of international human rights law. “The Georgian authorities should take urgent measures to protect Saakashvili’s health, including considering his release on medical grounds.”
Two independent medical teams have concluded that Saakashvili developed a number of life-threatening health problems while in custody over the past 16 months. According to one of them, a group of forensic doctors, Saakashvili suffers from mental, neurological, orthopedic and gastrointestinal diseases that threaten his life and require medical treatment not available in Georgia. In addition, according to independent medical experts under the auspices of the public defender who visited Saakashvili on February 19, his health condition has continued to deteriorate since their last visit in December 2022 and he will soon face irreversible organ damage.
Georgian law requires courts to authorize the release of seriously ill prisoners; However, such requests are often rejected. On February 6, a Tbilisi court rejected Saakashvili’s request, filed in December, to postpone or suspend his prison sentence on medical grounds. Saakashvili’s lawyers have appealed the decision.
Medical decisions regarding the need for ongoing medical care and observation outside of prison or the release of inmates on grounds of medical necessity should be made by appropriate medical professionals and should not be overridden or ignored by non-medical authorities. Georgia law should allow health care professionals to assess the needs of their patients in prison and, if necessary, provide them with transfer to appropriate facilities or medical release.
“A prison sentence should not be a death sentence when treatable conditions tragically turn fatal,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Georgian authorities need to humanize this aspect of the country’s criminal justice system and bring it into line with international standards. “They should begin to provide legal remedies that ensure immediate medical attention and, where appropriate, the release from custody of those who are unable to remain in custody due to their medical condition.”
Mikheil Saakashvili, who was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year prison sentence for two counts of abuse of power related to the beating of opposition politician Valery Gelashvili by special police forces in 2005.
Saakashvili was tried and convicted in absentia in 2018. Convictions in absentia violate international fair trial standards. He was arrested upon his return to Georgia on October 1, 2021 and faces additional abuse of office charges. His supporters say the charges are politically motivated.
Saakashvili’s health deteriorated rapidly during his imprisonment. He has lost more than 100 pounds and developed severe mental, orthopedic and gastrointestinal health problems. The forensic medical report released on December 1 concluded that he urgently needed treatment that he was unable to receive in Georgia. On December 6, a separate report from another group of medical experts appointed by the Georgian prosecutor confirmed that Saakashvili’s health condition was “serious” and required urgent change to his “ineffective treatment.”
Georgian authorities claim that Saakashvili’s health has deteriorated as a result of “self-harm” caused by multiple hunger strikes. They say he is receiving adequate medical care at Vivamedi, a private clinic in Tbilisi.