Hundreds of opposition supporters in Georgia have begun a demonstration to demand the release of jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is on a hunger strike.
Demonstrators — holding banners and waving the flags of Georgia, Ukraine, and the European Union — gathered near the prison in the town of Rustavi where Saakashvili is being held.
The rally comes after similar protests were held outside the prison where Saakashvili, 53, began a hunger strike after being detained within hours of his return on October 1 from eight years in self-exile to campaign for the opposition ahead of nationwide elections.
The rallies were called by the United National Movement (ENM), an opposition group founded by Saakashvili.
Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, left the country shortly after its presidential election in 2013 and was convicted in absentia in 2018 for 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.
His lawyers and personal doctor claim that Saakashvili’s condition is deteriorating and have demanded that he be transferred to a clinic outside the prison. The government has said that, if necessary, he will be treated in the clinic of the Gldani Penitentiary Institution.
Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said on November 5 that Saakashvili has received various porridges and natural juices and takes medicine prescribed by doctors.
Bregadze also said the ministry strongly recommends that Saakashvili not leave the prison for his court case for safety reasons.
“We will do our utmost to promote justice,” Bregadze said. “Will not interfere, but our recommendation would be that the trial be held in Penitentiary Establishment No. 12. This will be our recommendation and, naturally, we will follow all the necessary legal procedures.”
The ENM, Georgia’s main opposition force, 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 rival Bidzina Ivanishvili, rigged the second-round 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.