European committee report on conditions of ex-Pres. Saakashvili, inmates in civilian clinic found “no mistreatment” - Deputy Justice Minister

Beka Dzamashvili, the Deputy Justice Minister of Georgia, called the report “very important”. Photo: Justice Ministry press office, 18 Jan 2024 - 17:39, Tbilisi,Georgia

Beka Dzamashvili, the Deputy Justice Minister of Georgia, on Thursday said the latest report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment had observed “no cases of violence and mistreatment” of prisoners, including Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili, in the civilian clinic in Tbilisi where the former official has been undergoing treatment since 2022.

Commenting on the report, published earlier during the day following the visit of the Committee’s delegation to the country in March 2023, the official cited the report as saying the majority of convicts receiving treatment in the Vivamedi clinic were “satisfied” by its service and the staff. 

The [visiting] professionals acknowledged the clinic has provided all conditions to ensure adequate medical services to prisoners. This concerns both the infrastructure and the medical staff and the provided medical services”, Dzamashvili said, calling the report “very important” considering his office’s stance to “protect the rights of inmates and offer adequate medical services” to them. 

The report, which was published by the request of the Georgian Government, said the Committee delegation had enjoyed “very good cooperation” overall from the management and staff of the clinic, especially in being provided access to the premises and ability to speak with patients in private.  

It stressed the delegation heard “no allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff” working on the three secure wards of the clinic, and the atmosphere appeared to be “relaxed”, with several patients speaking “positively of both the healthcare and custodial staff”. 

The document also highlighted material conditions in the secure part of the clinic were “on the whole adequate, as could indeed be expected from a healthcare facility”. It added ventilation and artificial lighting “were good as well” and patients had “unrestricted access” to good-quality toilets, washing and shower facilities. 

The report, however, pointed to the clinic’s failure to offer a proper therapeutic environment and ensure quality medical records, indicated restrictions on movement within the venue's floors and presence of permanent surveillance, along with a lack of outdoor exercises for inmates.The report recommended the introduction of management by the clinic’s medical staff over the secure wards.

It also said in the situation of Saakashvili, although his access “to a range of medical specialists and treatments”, the “combination of factors such as being held alone for many months, being deprived of outdoor exercise and being subjected to permanent CCTV monitoring results in a situation that is oppressive, degrading and not conducive to improving his health condition”. 

Ex-President Saakashvili, who currently holds Ukrainian citizenship and was arrested in 2021 in Tbilisi, is serving his six-year term for abuse of power while in office in two separate cases, and is legally banned from participation in Georgian politics as a foreign citizen. Video grab. 

In its reply, the Georgian Justice Ministry stressed Saakashvili had “repeatedly declined” consultations with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and "consistently refused” to avail himself of the right to outdoor activity.

The body also said certain recommendations had been addressed, including the provision of tables and chairs in wards, installation of telephones for inmates and development of infrastructure for outdoor activities for clinic inmates. It also downplayed other issues such as concerns over the video surveillance protocol of the former official, quality of medical records, transfer of prison healthcare responsibilities to another state agency and the clinic’s security arrangements. 

Reacting to the report, the United National Movement, the largest opposition faction in the country founded by Saakashvili, claimed the document had “confirmed” the former official was “unable” to receive “proper treatment” in the clinic, where he was transferred in May 2022, and was a “victim of degrading treatment”. 

The party further asserted the “political imprisonment” of Saakashvili, who currently holds Ukrainian citizenship and was arrested on his clandestine return to Georgia in October 2021, “destroys the opportunity for the Georgian people to express their will in a free, fair and competitive environment” in this year’s parliamentary elections. 

On his part, Irakli Kadagishvili, an MP from the ruling Georgian Dream party, claimed the report had highlighted “tangible progress in terms of the current situation in the penitentiary system” and movement “in the right direction on the path of reforms”, noting “if something needs to be improved, it will be addressed”. 

He further stressed “even Sweden and Norway may not meet all the recommendations” issued by related bodies, and claimed Saakashvili’s family could “ease” his “alleged loneliness” through “frequent visits”.