In Georgia, demonstrators gather in support of jailed former president

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Protestors vowed demonstrations will continue until their demands are met

Originally published on Global Voices

A screenshot from a video report by Radio Liberty.

In Georgia, hundreds of opposition supporters gathered on November 6, calling for the immediate release of former president Mikheil Saakashvilli from prison. The rally took place in the town of Rustavi, near the prison where Saakashvhilli is currently held.

The former president was arrested on October 1 after returning to Georgia, having spent eight years in self-imposed exile. He was sentenced to six years in absentia on several accounts of abuse of power in 2018. The former president denies charges leveled against him. Since his arrest on October 1, Saakashvili has been on a hunger strike.

Holding banners and flags of Georgia, Ukraine, and the EU, the protesters came together after calls from the United National Movement, an opposition group founded by Saakashvili. The calls came after the second round of local elections held on October 30.

Addressing the crowd of opposition supporters, the leader of the United National Movement, Nika Melia, said, “The government thinks in vain that it won yesterday [October 30]. The Georgian people, will win very soon.” Melia, also called for mass demonstrations on November 7 “different from all previous demonstrations.”

“The whole world will watch the large scale demonstration that will be held on Freedom Square on Rustaveli Avenue on Sunday [November 7],” vowed Melia on October 31.

Addressing the crowd on Saturday, Melia said the party would make the demonstrations outside Rustavi Prison a permanent fixture and continue to protest unless authorities transfer Saakashvilli to a civilian hospital. As thousands of opposition supporters gathered at Tbilisi's Liberty Square on November 8, Melia announced the date and place for the next protest — November 9, outside the Ministry of Justice. According to OC Media, hours before the demonstration on Monday, authorities transferred Saakashvili to a prison facility in the capital Tbilisi with a better medical ward.

In addition to street demonstrations, other opposition parties have focused on less traditional tactics. On November 7 and 8, two opposition parties, Droa and Girchi — More Freedom, who allied with UNM ahead of the second round of votes, staged a nonviolent protest outside the State Security Service building and Ministry of Justice. “On November 7, members of Girchi — More Freedom dumped rubbish in front of the State Security Service and threw paper planes over the fence. The following day, Droa activists brought nutritional supplements in front of the Justice Ministry, which earlier questioned Saakashvili's hunger strike,” reported OC Media. Meanwhile, the chair of Droa, Elene Khoshtaria started a hunger strike on November 3.

Other opposition MPs have offered an olive branch. On November 8, the Reforms Group and Lelo offered a 7-point proposal to the ruling government. In it, the opposition parties ask to relocate Saakashvili to a civilian hospital; appoint, foreign judges for a fair trail in the case of the former president; and return to reform package set out in the abandoned EU-mediated agreement signed between the parties and the government in April.

Reports of the former president's quickly deteriorating health have had little impact on the ruling government's decision. The Ministry of Justice even said that should the situation significantly worsen, he will be transferred to the prison medical wing, according to Radio Liberty reporting.