Health fears for jailed, emaciated ex-Georgia leader Saakashvili

Supporters and family fear that former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been poisoned in prison after losing about 60kgs in weight.

Georgia’s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili appeared frail and severely emaciated via video link at a court hearing considering an abuse-of-power case against him.

Saakashvili and his supporters claim he has been poisoned while imprisoned and that he now weighs about 60kg (132 lbs), half of what he weighed 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 show his ribs protruding from his chest, a hollow abdomen and skin clinging tightly to his bones.

“A totally innocent man is being kept in custody,” he said in coverage carried live on several independent TV channels.

“I did not commit any crime,” he said.

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

“Putting me in jail will not break me. I am going to be actively involved in Georgian politics,” he said.Saakashvili, who served as Georgia’s president from 2004-13 and led the so-called Rose Revolution protests that drove the previous president out of office, left for Ukraine after the end of his second term.

He holds Ukrainian citizenship and was the governor of the Odesa region in 2015-16. After leaving Georgia, Saakashvili was convicted in absentia for 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 before nationwide municipal elections. The former president is now on trial on charges of “abuse of office” connected to the violent dispersal of an opposition rally in 2007.

Doctors have said Saakashvili risks dying from conditions he developed while in custody, though Georgian authorities say he is being given adequate medical care.

His brother, David Saakashvili, said the ex-president was continuing to lose weight, was at risk of dying and might have been poisoned. The family says he is not receiving proper medical treatment.

‘Political revenge’

The European Union and United States have urged Georgia to ensure Saakashvili is provided medical treatment and that his rights are protected.

Amnesty International has branded his treatment as “apparent political revenge”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday called for Georgia to send Saakashvili to Ukraine for medical treatment and said the Georgian ambassador would be called to the foreign ministry and encouraged 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 ex-leader poor treatment in prison and  called on the international community not to ignore Saakashvili but to “save this man”.

“Ukraine has repeatedly called on the Georgian authorities to stop this demonstrative execution. Both we and our partners have offered various options to save Mykhailo,” he said.

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

Zelenskyy 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 the West’s sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.