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South Ossetia jails Georgian doctor for entering region illegally

FILE PHOTO: A police car patrols along a border fence on the de facto border of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia near Dvani, Georgia, June 4, 2018. Picture taken June 4, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo

TBILISI (Reuters) - A court in Georgia’s Russian-controlled region of South Ossetia has jailed a Georgian doctor for illegally entering the region, despite appeals for his release by the United States and Europe’s main human rights forum.

Georgia’s state security service said on Friday the court had handed a 21-month jail sentence to Vazha Gaprindashvili, who colleagues said had been trying to reach a patient in South Ossetia, which is controlled by Moscow following a war in 2008.

“This illegal ... decision reiterates the grave human rights and security situation in the occupied region,” the state security service said in a statement.

Gaprindashvili is president of Georgia’s association of orthopaedists and traumatologists. Hundreds of Georgians, including politicians, staged a rally on the boundary with South Ossetia on Sunday to demand his release.

Georgian villagers living near the loosely guarded rural boundary are often detained on similar grounds but the detention of the high-profile doctor has drawn international attention.

The U.S. embassy in Georgia and rights group Amnesty International called last month for Gaprindashvili’s immediate release and the reopening of all crossing points along the South Ossetia boundary.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe also called for Gaprindashvili to be released after he was ordered on Nov. 9 to be held for up to two months in pre-trial detention.

Russian authorities did not immediately comment.

Russia won a brief war against fellow former Soviet republic Georgia in 2008, after which Moscow recognised two Georgian breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent and deployed troops there. Russia and South Ossetia signed a deal in 2015 to integrate their security forces.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze, Editing by Timothy Heritage