Georgia's jailed ex-leader Saakashvili in new hunger strike

AFP , Wednesday 14 Dec 2022

Georgia's jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili announced a new hunger strike Wednesday after authorities didn't ensure a video link between the hospital where he is being held and his court hearing.

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was convicted in absentia of abuse of power during his presidency and arrested upon his return from exile, gestures speaking from a defendant s dock during a court hearing in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Dec. 2, 2021. AP


Saakashvili has been a key figure of politics in the ex-Soviet Caucasus country for two decades and his latest protest puts pressure on a long-running standoff with the political rivals who jailed him.

The 54-year-old was transferred to hospital last year after an initial 50-day hunger strike to protest his jailing, which rights groups and allies abroad have said was politically motivated.

Saakashvili's lawyers have demanded the deferral of his prison sentence on abuse of office charges, pointing to his poor health.

A court hearing over their demand that was due earlier Wednesday was postponed after authorities failed to provide a video link between the courtroom and Saakashvili's hospital.

"Mikheil Saakashvili went on a hunger strike, demanding he be allowed to take part in the court hearings by video link," his lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP.

The founder of Georgia's main opposition force and president between 2004 and 2013, Saakashvili was convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.

The pro-Western reformer was imprisoned in October 2021, days after secretly returning from exile in Ukraine.

Doctors -- including those linked to Georgia's rights ombudsperson and his legal team -- have warned Saakashvili is suffering from serious neurological conditions.

'Poisoning' concerns

Rights group Empatia has said Saakashvili was physically and psychologically abused in detention and a doctor linked to Georgia's rights ombudsperson said he had lost around 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in jail.

Doctors in a report released by Saakashvili's legal team said testing had revealed the presence of heavy metals in Saakashvili's body and that related symptoms likely "are the result of heavy metal poisoning".

The authorities insist that Saakashvili is being given adequate medical care and promised to ensure he takes part in a court hearing next week.

Commenting last week on the growing concerns about Saakashvili's health, Prime Minister Garibashvili said: "Our lives are given to God, so I can't really be responsible for anyone's life."

He had earlier said that Saakashvili was jailed because he refused to quit politics.

The European Union and United States earlier said the government was responsible for providing Saakashvili with a proper medical care.

In October, the Council of Europe rights watchdog called for the "release of political prisoners opposed to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in the Russian Federation and other countries, including Mikheil Saakashvili".

Amnesty International has branded his treatment as "apparent political revenge".

Prior to his return to Georgia, Saakashvili -- who is a Ukrainian national -- had been appointed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to lead a government agency steering reforms.

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