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Defying Patriarch, female inmates continue hunger strike

By Shorena Labadze
Tuesday, July 8
On July 4 the country’s spiritual leader visited a Tbilisi prison where female inmates began a hunger strike a month ago, telling them to end the protest. But the inmates, who previously suspended the protest at the behest of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, say the demonstration will continue.

The Patriarch, bearing prayer books and other gifts, asked the women to end their hunger strike. He also urged the president’s administration to consider the women’s cases.

“There must be picked out a special article [in the law] according to which they will be discharged and returned to their families [if cleared of charges in an investigation],” the Patriarch said.

At least some of the 19 hunger strikers ended their protest at his intervention, according to television station Rustavi 2.

A priest who has been working with the demonstrators said only the “most stubborn” are still on hunger strike.

The head of the NGO Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, Nana Kakabadze, said the Patriarch’s visit did not resolve anything, and more women are planning to join the hunger strike.

“The Patriarch handed them different religious things, but made no promises. Nothing has changed there,” she said.

One of the hunger strikers, whose name is being withheld because she broke prison regulations in speaking to this newspaper, confirmed they will continue the protest: “The Patriarch asked us to stop, but we refused. He said he would ask the president once more to express charity. We aren’t going to stop. We’ll fight to the end.”

Father Iakobi, a priest who has been working with the prisoners, said that while the Patriarchate is doing its utmost to find a resolution, the women must be patient and obedient.

“We are trying to help them. But they have to obey us and the law. The Patriarch visited them himself, but 19 women didn’t obey even his request,” he told the newspaper.

“Hunger striking isn’t a way out from the situation. They won’t make the state change its direction. They must say prayers and be obedient, to have the moral right to demand tolerance from the president.”

The Patriarchate has previously sent a letter to the inmates urging them to end the strike, which has gone on intermittently since June 7. Father Iakobi said the Patriarch also sent two letters to the president’s administration.

“The Patriarch’s letter concerned creating a special commission which would hear the women’s cases, but there is no answer so far,” he said.

A spokesman for the president’s administration confirmed they received a letter, but said it will remain “without reaction.”

“[This] letter came. The head of the administration, Zurab Adeishvili, discussed it and put it into a filing cabinet. So, it hasn’t reached the president,” the spokesman said.

The hunger strike began on June 7 with scores of female prisoners demanding case reviews and better living conditions. Some claim to be political prisoners jailed after speaking out against government moves to confiscate their property.