Georgians rally to back jailed ex-president on hunger strike
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Several thousand people rallied in the Georgian capital on Monday, demanding that authorities in the ex-Soviet nation transfer the jailed ex-president to a civilian hospital amid reports that his health is deteriorating after weeks of being on a hunger strike.
Mikheil Saakashvili, 53, announced a hunger strike shortly after his arrest last month and has been refusing food for 46 days. His doctors say his health is quickly deteriorating, and his lawyers argue that the prison hospital Saakashvili has been transferred to lacks security and necessary equipment.
Saakashvili’s supporters have been holding daily rallies, calling for his transfer from the prison hospital. Georgia’s penitentiary service said Monday that Saakashvili’s life is not under threat.
Large crowds marched through central Tbilisi on Monday, urging the government to give Saakashvili proper medical treatment.
Ten members of Parliament have also gone on a hunger strike, demanding Saakashvili’s transfer to a civilian hospital.
“We are not asking to feed Misha (Saakashvili), we are not asking for any political demands, we are just asking to not kill the third President of Georgia and give him a proper treatment, which is provided to any other prisoner in this country,” said Elene Khoshtaria, chairman of the civil movement Droa who has been refusing food for 13 days.
Saakashvili was arrested on Oct. 1 upon returning to Georgia after almost eight years in exile. The divisive ex-president came back to rally the opposition ahead of Georgia’s municipal elections. The elections were eventually swept by members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, but the opposition alleged fraud.
Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, left Georgia in 2013 following the end of his presidency due to term limits. He was later was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced in absentia to six years in prison on abuse-of-power convictions. Saakashvili says the charges are politically motivated.