TBILISI -- Several thousand supporters of jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili took to the streets in protest in the wake of a report by an independent medical commission finding that he had been "tortured" while in custody.
The protesters on December 21 waved flags and held banners demanding Saakashvili's immediate release as they marched through the capital, Tbilisi, and gathered in front of the parliament building.
Addressing the crowd, Nika Melia, chairman of Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM), announced a "mass hunger strike that will not end until Mikheil Saakashvili is released from captivity."
It was not immediately clear how many people would participate in the hunger strike, which is to be held outside ENM's Tbilisi headquarters.
The protest was timed to coincide with Saakashvili's 54th birthday.
There were no reports of arrests or violence.
Shortly before the protest, Saakashvili -- who has been in custody since early October -- posted a message on Facebook calling for national unity and peaceful demonstrations.
"For me personally, the choice is clear -- either death or freedom, because Georgia will die without freedom and then my life will lose its meaning," he wrote. "In our diversity and our love of freedom is our strength and the secret of survival."
The ex-president said someday Georgia will "elect a government that will serve all Georgians, rather than one man," referring to the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Ivanishvili is believed to be the top decision-maker in the South Caucasus country even though he does not hold any office.
Saakashvili served as Georgia's president from 2004 to 2013. He was arrested October 1 shortly after returning from self-imposed exile in Ukraine.
He conducted a 50-day hunger strike while in jail to protest his convictions on charges of abuse of office, which he says were politically motivated.
On December 18, an independent group of seven doctors examined him in the Gori Military Hospital and issued a statement saying that Saakashvili's health had been seriously compromised as a result of "torture" and mistreatment while in custody.
The commission, organized by the NGO Empathy Center, said the former president had developed several neurological conditions "as a result of torture, ill-treatment, inadequate medical care, and a prolonged hunger strike."
One member of the team alleged Saakashvili had been wrongly given "antipsychotic drugs" and accused the authorities of "pharmacological torture."
Earlier this month, the Georgian State Inspectorate announced it had opened an investigation into Saakashvili's allegations of mistreatment.