Health fears for jailed, emaciated former Georgian leader Saakashvili | politics news

Supporters and family members fear former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was poisoned in prison after losing around 60kg in weight.

Georgia’s imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared frail and severely emaciated via video link at a court hearing into a charge of abuse of power against him.

Saakashvili and his supporters claim he was poisoned in prison and now weighs about 60 kg (132 lbs), half what he was when he was arrested in October 2021.

From a private clinic where he was being held, he told the court on Monday that despite his poor health, he was “spiritually fit and determined to serve the country,” according to local news site Agenda.

Saakashvili, 55, lifted his shirt to reveal his ribs protruding from his chest, hollow stomach and skin stuck tight to his bones.

“A completely innocent man is being held in custody,” he said in live coverage of several independent television channels.

“I have committed no crime,” he said.

Georgia's imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili appears on a screen via a video link from a clinic during a court hearing in the case of the violent crackdown on mass anti-government protests in 2007 in Tbilisi, Georgia, July 3, 2023.  REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
Georgia’s imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili appears on a screen via video link from a clinic during a court session in Tbilisi, Georgia, July 3, 2023 [Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters]

The former president is being held in a civilian hospital, where he was transferred last year after beginning a 50-day hunger strike to protest his detention.

“Putting me in jail won’t break me. I will take an active part in Georgian politics,” he said.

Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013 and led the so-called Rose Revolution protests that ousted the previous president, traveled to Ukraine after the end of his second term.

He is a Ukrainian citizen and served as the governor of the Odessa region from 2015 to 2016. After leaving Georgia, Saakashvili was convicted in absentia of abuse of power and sentenced to six years in prison.

He was arrested in October 2021 after returning to Georgia to try to bolster opposition forces ahead of statewide municipal elections. The former president is currently on trial for “abuse of office” in connection with the violent dispersal of an opposition rally in 2007.

Doctors said Saakashvili is at risk of dying from diseases he contracted while in detention, although Georgian authorities say he is receiving adequate medical care.

His brother David Saakashvili said the ex-president continued to lose weight, was in mortal danger and may have been poisoned. The family state that he is not receiving adequate medical treatment.

“Political revenge”

The European Union and the United States have called on Georgia to ensure that Saakashvili receives medical treatment and that his rights are protected.

Amnesty International described his treatment as “obvious political revenge”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday urged Georgia to send Saakashvili to Ukraine for medical treatment, saying the Georgian ambassador will be called to the foreign ministry and asked to return to Georgia within two days for consultations with his government.

In his daily video message on Monday evening, Zelenskyy accused Moscow of being behind the former leader’s poor treatment in prison and called on the international community not to ignore Saakashvili but to “save this man”.

“Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Georgian authorities to stop this demonstrative execution. Both we and our partners offered different options to save Mykhailos,” he said.

“No government in Europe has the right to execute people – life is a fundamental European value,” he added.

Zelenskyi has repeatedly claimed that Saakashvili is being slowly killed in Georgian custody, describing it as a de facto public execution.

Georgia, which had received significant US support under Saakashvili, lost a brief war against Russia in 2008, including control of its breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

To Zelenskyy’s annoyance, Georgia does not support Western sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

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