Georgia's Hunger-Striking Ex-President Moved To Prison Hospital

TBILISI -- Jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month, has been transferred to a prison hospital.

The Penitentiary Service said on November 8 that Saakashvili was transferred from the prison in the city of Rustavi to the Gldani prison clinic amid concerns about his health.

Saakashvili's lawyers and personal doctor say the 53-year-old former president's condition is deteriorating and have demanded that he be transferred to a private clinic outside the prison system.

The government rejected these demands, saying that if necessary, he would be transferred to a prison hospital.

Saakashvili's supporters and activists of his United National Movement (ENM), Georgia's main opposition party, have been protesting against his incarceration outside the prison in Rustavi where he began a hunger strike after being detained on October 1 upon his return from eight years in self-exile to campaign for the opposition ahead of local elections.

On November 8, supporters rallied in Tbilisi's central Freedom Square, demanding Saakashvili's release and his transfer to a civilian hospital.

Earlier on November 8, Saakashvili vowed to continue his hunger strike "until death," while the Penitentiary Service issued a video over the weekend showing the former president eating unspecified items and drinking from a bottle in the detention center's medical room.

In his statement on Facebook, Saakashvili called on his supporters and opposition politicians to focus on what he called "stolen elections and returning the government to the Georgian people" instead of focusing on his hunger strike.

"I returned [to Georgia], voluntarily became a hostage, and intended to stay on hunger strike until death to contribute into liberation our country, to its efforts to preserve its European path...," Saakashvili's Facebook statement said.

Meanwhile, on November 5, Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said Saakashvili also consumed porridge in addition to juice.

A day later, the Penitentiary Service issued a video showing the former president eating some food and drinking what the service said was juice in a medical room in the detention center in Rustavi, and issued a video to prove it.

Saakashvili then announced on that day that he was stopping receiving vitamins and juice in protest.

Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, left the country shortly after the presidential election of 2013 and was convicted in absentia in 2018 of abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament.

Saakashvili has said the charges against him are politically motivated.

The ENM was outpolled decisively by the ruling Georgian Dream party in the October 3 nationwide municipal and mayoral vote.

The opposition has said that Georgian Dream, founded by billionaire and Saakashvili's rival Bidzina Ivanishvili, rigged the runoff on October 30. Georgian Dream won the mayoral races in the country's five biggest cities as a result of the vote.

Georgia has been plagued by political paralysis since parliamentary elections in 2020.