Footage allegedly showing former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili in a virtual court appearance has sparked concerns about his health. Ukrainian officials have accused Tbilisi of torturing Saakashvili after images and videos from the hearing were posted on social media. In the footage, Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year prison sentence for abuse of power and covering up evidence related to a banker’s murder, can be seen lifting his shirt to reveal his emaciated state. Due to his deteriorating health, he had been transferred to a hospital in Tbilisi last year. However, the current Georgian President, Salome Zourabichvili, has rejected requests from Kiev to release Saakashvili for medical treatment in Ukraine.
Mikhail Podoliak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, responded to the shocking images by accusing Georgia of torturing Saakashvili “slowly and cynically” in an attempt to please Russian President Vladimir Putin. He criticized the Tbilisi government for damaging its “European prospects” and giving Georgia a reputation synonymous with “cannibalism.” Saakashvili, who holds a Ukrainian passport, had also served as the governor of Odessa Region during his exile from Georgia before resigning in 2016.
Saakashvili, now 55, had gone on hunger strikes since his arrest, resulting in a significant weight loss. His weight reportedly dropped from 115kg in October 2021 to 74kg in December of that year. He alleged earlier in the year that he had been poisoned with high-density metals by “Russian agents” while in custody. However, the Georgian government accused Saakashvili of exaggerating the severity of his illness and released footage showing his aggressive behavior towards hospital staff, claiming that he was obstructing justice.
The international community has been urging Georgia to join US-led sanctions against Russia over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. In May, air traffic between Georgia and Russia resumed under a decree signed by President Putin. Saakashvili’s presidency, which spanned from 2004 to 2013, was marked by a significant event in the region. In August 2008, he launched an attack on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, resulting in the death of several Russian peacekeepers and triggering a five-day conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, expressed his horror upon seeing the latest footage of Saakashvili and criticized Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili for refusing to pardon him. Gerashchenko emphasized that Saakashvili’s health condition requires urgent medical treatment.
The situation surrounding Saakashvili has raised concerns about human rights violations and the treatment of political prisoners. As his health continues to deteriorate, there is mounting pressure on Georgian authorities to provide proper medical care and address the allegations of torture. The international community will be closely monitoring the developments and advocating for Saakashvili’s well-being.