NGOs’ Address to the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
Tbilisi, 12 November 2021
We, the NGOs working in Georgia call on the CPT to use its mandate for an ad hoc visit to the Georgian penitentiary system and monitor the human rights situation of President Saakashvili.
Recently, Georgian human rights organisations have been witnessing on a daily basis the inhuman and degrading treatment of the third president of Georgia, Mr Saakashvili. This is mostly manifested in the gross violation of his rights as a prisoner on a hunger strike as well as a patient. We believe this amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.
On 1 October 2021, the third president of Georgia was arrested and admitted to Prison No. 12, a special prison establishment for public officials. In protest, Mr Saakashvili has been on a hunger strike since his arrest, as he believes his arrest is politically motivated. Considering the risks of deterioration of his health as a prisoner on a hunger strike and the necessity for hospitalisation, the Ministry of Justice assembled a panel of doctors. The key findings of the panel were made public by the media. As RFRL reported, “the patient is facing a high risk of multisystem complications, requires an urgent treatment in a multi-speciality, high technology medical establishment, where he will be able to receive cardio-vascular, neurological, therapeutic and diagnostic radiological (MRI, CT, Catheterisation lab), haematological, endocrinological and nutritional treatments.”
High-ranking officials, including Prime-Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, responded to the above recommendation of the panel with a statement that the transfer of the third president, Mr Saakashvili to a civilian hospital was out of the question and, should there be any need for treatment, he would only be transferred to the medical facility meant for accused and convicted prisoners. It should be noted that transferring prisoners to different establishments, including medical facilities, does not fall within the competence of the Prime Minister.
The Public Defender of Georgia has inspected the prison medical establishment twice – on 24 October and 4 November – to verify its readiness to treat Mr Saakashvili and found that “the conditions at the establishment, in terms of its medical standards, unfortunately still fail to fully meet the recommendations and findings made by the multidisciplinary team on 3 November 2021 and 28 October 2021.” The same was publicly confirmed by the First Deputy Health Minister, Tamar Gabunia, on 9 November, noting that “of course, [Prison No. 18] is not equipped with high-technologies and naturally, they might need additional assistance.”
In addition to its inadequacy from the medical viewpoint, the prison hospital poses a serious threat in terms of the physical safety of the third president and his protection from psychological pressure. Prison No.18 is located on the premises of Prison No. 8, where most prisoners are members of the criminal underworld, while Mr Saakashvili’s office is associated with crackdown on criminals. This increases the risk of physical violence from other prisoners to a maximum degree.
Despite all the above, on 8 November 2021, Mr Saakashvili was transferred forcibly to Prison No. 18 in flagrant violation of the standards of treatment of a prisoner on a hunger strike and a patient’s informed consent. It must be noted that Mr Saakashvili had been adamantly opposed to the idea of being treated in this establishment.
On the next day of Mr Saakashvili’s transfer to Prison No. 18, the Public Defender of Georgia released a statement, reiterating, “Prison No. 18 does not meet the recommendations made by the medical panel and admitting Mr Saakashvili to this establishment clearly violates the duty of respect for human dignity imposed on the state. Therefore, the Public Defender calls on the MoJ/Special Penitentiary Service to transfer immediately the third president Mikheil Saakashvili to an alternative medical facility.”
International human rights organisations also released harsh statements concerning this matter. Amnesty International stated that the ex-president had been denied dignity, privacy and adequate healthcare. It also noted that his “violent transfer” to prison hospital was not “just selective justice but an apparent political revenge”. The IRCT condemned the ill-treatment of the former president and urged the authorities to respect and protect his basic human rights.
In addition to the use of force against the prisoner on a hunger strike, Mr Saakashvili was also subjected to verbal abuse during his transfer to Prison No. 18. The video footage of this attack was also made public. It must be stressed that verbal abuse on the part of other prisoners is of continuous and permanent nature and is directed not only against the prisoner but every other individual visiting him in the penitentiary establishment, including the Public Defender. The fact that the Special Penitentiary Service has not even attempted to stop other prisoners from resorting to verbal abuse leads us to suspect that these are orchestrated events.
On 11 November 2021, the Special Penitentiary Service of the MoJ distributed some of the footage depicting the moment Mr Saakashvili was being dragged into Prison No. 18. The authoritis claimed the release of the video was due to heightened public interest.
According to the statement of the State Inspector’s Service, an investigation into the alleged ill-treatment of Mr Saakashvili in the penitentiary is pending. “In those circumstances, where the State Inspector’s Service is still awaiting confirmation from the Penitentiary Service regarding the existence of such footage and, therefore, there has not been a motion filed with a court for obtaining this footage, making this video recording public by the Special Penitentiary Service and the Ministry of Justice (which, among others, is evidence in the pending criminal investigation), threatens the effectiveness of our investigation.” The State Inspector’s Service called on the competent authorities to stop releasing footages containing personal data of the third president, and to respect his human dignity and the right to privacy.
The Public Defender also reacted to the release of the footage with the following comment: “The Ministry of Justice/Special Penitentiary Service violated the prisoner’s right to honour, dignity and privacy by releasing the footage showing the admission of Mikheil Saakashvili to Medical Establishment No. 18 against his will and with the use of force.”
On 10 November 2021, the experts from the Psycho-Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Violence and Pronounced Stress Impact/Empathy released a statement regarding the findings of the forensic examination conducted on the torture of the Mr Mikheil Saakashvili. “Mikheil Saakashvili was subjected to various forms of degrading treatment, psychological pressure while in prison and, during his transfer to Prison No. 18, he was subjected to psychological torture as well as physical torture. The attempted involuntary medical intervention made the patient to refuse the medical service thus posing risk to his life and giving rise to the necessity for an immediate action, i.e., transferring the patient to a civilian clinic. At the same time, due to the intensity and duration of the pressure, which is reflected in the duration of the hunger strike and the refusal of medical assistance, which amounts to political revenge, discrimination against Mikheil Saakashvili and misinforming the public, we believe that violations and the methods of violence used should be considered as torture of the detained politician.”
Numerous statements made by the state authorities also contribute to the inhuman and degrading treatment aimed at worsening the situation of the prisoner, inciting him to reject medically recommended nutrients required to sustain his life and force him into total starvation. Examples of such statements include the words of Prime Minister Gharibashvili about Mr Saakashvili’s right to commit suicide and “when someone goes on hunger strike, they should not be eating half a kilo honey.” The Chair of the ruling party Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, stated that “this man eats and drinks. He wants 3 litres of lemonades and drinks it.” Mr Saakashvili responded to the allegations by refusing all medical assistance.
On 6 November 2021, the Special Penitentiary Service also released footage depicting Mr Saakashvili consuming medically prescribed nutrients in the presence of medical staff in a medical unit of Prison No. 12, as evidence that the prisoner had called off his hunger strike.
We are deeply alarmed that this kind of treatment towards prisoner Saakashvili, while his health and human rights remain in the centre of rigorous public scrutiny, raises serious questions concerning the treatment and human rights of other prisoners too. We believe that the assessment by the international monitoring body of the current situation in the Georgian prison system, including the treatment towards the third president Mr Saakashvili, would contribute to the respect of human rights in Georgia.
Institute for Democracy and Safe Development
Georgian Democracy Initiative
Psycho-Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture RCT/Empathy
Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups
Society and Banks
Prison Reform International
In Depth Reporting and Economic Analysis Center
Transparency International Georgia
Tolerance and Diversity Institute
Georgian Reform Association
Governance Monitoring Center
Media Development Foundation
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy
Open Society Georgia Foundation
Economic Policy Research Center
Human Rights Center
Atlantic Council of Georgia
Ilia Chavchavadze Center for European Studies and Civic Education