Georgia's ailing ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who has launched several hunger strikes to protest his imprisonment, requires life-saving medical care abroad, doctors linked to his lawyers told AFP Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Saakashvili has been a key figure of politics in the ex-Soviet Caucasus country for two decades and a court is due this week to consider deferring his sentence for abuse of office over his deteriorating condition.
The 54-year-old was transferred from prison to hospital last year after refusing food for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have said is politically motivated.
A group of U.S.-based doctors, who examined Saakashvili in person on his legal team's request, told AFP he is facing life-threatening complications stemming from his detention conditions.
"It is crystal clear he has been grossly mistreated, subjected to torture," doctor James Cobey told AFP in written comments.
Saakashvili's "life is now immediately threatened unless he is moved to a Western treatment facility to receive urgent and lifesaving care," he added.
Cobey said Saakashvili needs four major orthopaedic surgeries that cannot be carried out in Georgia.
Doctor Eric Goldsmith said Saakashvili is suffering from serious neurological conditions rendering him "gravely disabled."
Saakashvili "has not been afforded proper medical care and in fact his current care significantly multiplies his problems" as he is being given drugs that could worsen his condition, Goldsmith added.
"It is imperative that the former president be transferred to a tertiary medical centre in the United States."
The United States called on Georgia to follow the doctors' recommendations.
"It is the responsibility of the Georgian government to treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity including by providing all necessary medical and psychological treatment as recommended by the independent public defenders' medical experts," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
- 'Show mercy' -
Doctor Stuart Finkel said that Saakashvili "suffers from a variety of gastrointestinal diseases" and that "treatment provided in confinement fall far below accepted standards of care."
Toxicologist David Smith meanwhile said testing has revealed Saakashvili had been exposed to poisoning by heavy metals while in custody and that he needs "immediate transfer to a medical facility outside Georgia."
The founder of Georgia's main opposition force and president between 2004 and 2013, Saakashvili was convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.
The pro-Western reformer was imprisoned in October 2021, days after secretly returning from exile in Ukraine.
The authorities insist Saakashvili is being given adequate medical care and that his rights are being protected.
Before his return to Georgia, Saakashvili -- a Ukrainian national -- was appointed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to lead a government agency steering reforms.
Zelensky earlier Tuesday asked the Georgian government "to show mercy" and "transfer Saakashvili to a medical facility in Ukraine, Europe or the United States."
"What is happening to Mikheil now is cruelty. It must be stopped," he said.
In October, the Council of Europe rights watchdog called for the "release of political prisoners opposed to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in the Russian Federation and other countries, including Mikheil Saakashvili."
Amnesty International has branded his treatment as "apparent political revenge."