Former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, currently imprisoned on dubious “abuse of office” charges, accused the current government of his country on Monday of seeking his “physical destruction at the behest of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Saakashvili accused the Georgian government of subjecting him to “physical and psychological violence” while in the country’s Gldani prison. Authorities moved Saakashvili into the prison hospital alleging that his health had deteriorated to critical levels; Saakashvili had been on hunger strike protesting his arrest for 39 days as of Monday. The former president had insisted repeatedly in public statements that under no circumstances would he agree to treatment at the prison hospital.
Saakashvili served as the third president of the Eurasian state of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. The staunchly pro-West, anti-Putin leader spearheaded a movement away from Moscow’s influence now known as the Rose Revolution. Putin invaded two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in response to Saakashvili’s election, prompting a global media campaign on Saakashvili’s behalf to galvanize support for a free Georgia.
After his presidency and as a result of a return to power for pro-Putin forces, Saakashvili ended up in Ukraine, serving as governor of Odessa. Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship and became Ukrainian, then lost his Ukrainian citizenship after he accused then-President Petro Poroshenko of corruption. While stateless for a time, current President Volodymyr Zelensky restored his Ukrainian citizenship.
After eight years of controversy, including attempted arrests in Ukraine, Saakashvili returned to Georgia in October and faced immediate arrest. He began a hunger strike shortly thereafter.
In a statement published on his Facebook account on Monday, Saakashvili accused Russian President Putin of seeking to kill him through brutal abuses at the hands of Georgian prison authorities. He also insisted that guards lied to him, stating they would move him to a civilian medical facility, and proceeded to beat him when he realize he had been lied to.
“I was deceitfully moved here after it was announced to me that I would be taken to a regular clinic in the city. They canceled a meeting with my doctors, an appointment with my mother and my children,” Saakashvili’s statement read.
“Despite my categorical refusal, I was dragged out of the car while being under the constant harassment of criminals, I was dragged to the ground, and hit several times in the neck,” the statement continued. “I was dragged by my hair and of course I resisted, just like in the ward where some vague criminal-looking medical staff approached me and this time I really bumped the analyzer [sic] because they started injecting something into me without my permission.”
Saakashvili claimed the government had urged other inmates at the prison to shout expletives and insults at him as they transferred him, as a way to indicate that the politician had no popular support.
Videos shared online alleging to be from outside the prison appear to corroborate his claims, as a large number of people can be heard shouting insults, according to Georgian language viewers.
გლდანის ციხის პატიმრების აგრესია მიხეილ სააკაშვილის მისამართით
გლდანის ციხის პატიმრების აგრესია მიხეილ სააკაშვილის მისამართით
Posted by მთავარი არხი • Mtavari Arkhi on Monday, November 8, 2021
Saakashvili insisted that, as he had said since his arrest, he would not allow prison medical staff to treat him.
“I refuse all medical intervention. I do not cooperate with medical staff,” Saakashvili wrote. “I will only meet with my personal doctor. The purpose of my transfer here is unequivocally my physical destruction at the behest of Putin.”
Saakashvili – already the subject of multiple thousands-strong protests in Tbilisi, the national capital – urged Georgians to protest and replace their current government.
“I was obliged to put up physical resistance to the violence, but I was alone here. And you are out there, numerous and therefore no one can defeat you,” his statement read. “In the conditions of peaceful but very strong protest. Again, do not be fooled by their provocations. With our unity, we must save our country with peace, which has fallen into the hands of the bandits and is on the verge of extinction.”
The current Georgian government dismissed Saakashvili’s statement, claiming that he, not the guards, began a physical altercation against health workers. Georgian officials also claimed that Saakashvili’s hunger strike was “fake” and published a video and images that they claimed showed Saakashvili eating porridge.
Saakashvili, the Georgian Justice Ministry said in a statement, “unfortunately insulted our employees both physically and verbally.”
Georgia’s Special Penitentiary Service published a video, due to “high public interest,” that appeared to show Saakashvili eating. The videos did not clearly show exactly what the man appearing to be Saakashvili was eating.
The chairman of Georgian Dream, the ruling party, joined the government in attacking Saakashvili, claiming he was not really on a hunger strike.
“If one is on an actual hunger strike, they are responsible for that. If one is on a fake hunger strike, the responsibility also lies with them,” chairman Irakli Kobakhidze reportedly said. “Therefore, they should keep the shameful message, that someone is allegedly killing Saakashvili, to themselves.”
In contrast, the Office of the Public Defender in the country stated on Tuesday that Saakashvili was “clearly” enduring human rights abuses.
“The situation will probably persist and Mikheil Saakashvili’s lawyers and other visitors will be subjected to similar verbal aggression,” the Public Defender lamented, adding the situation “grossly violates the individual right to dignity.”
An estimated 40,000 people packed Tbilisi’s Freedom Square on Monday demanding Saakashvili’s release.
“A mass, permanent protest movement begins in Georgia and will not stop until Mikheil Saakashvili is set free and snap elections are called,” the head of the United National Movement opposition party, Nika Melia, said at the event. Saakashvili supporters denounced the most recent regional elections in the country last week as a farce, citing extreme voter intimidation and suspicious handling of ballots. Melia called the elections, which Georgian Dream won by an overwhelming amount, “totally rigged.”
Saakashvili has called for another protest for both his freedom and that of the country on Wednesday.
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