Jailed ex-Georgian leader appears in court by video link, seeking urgent medical treatment
TBILISI (Reuters) -Mikheil Saakashvili, the jailed former president of Georgia, appeared in court via video link on Wednesday to show how much weight he had lost while incarcerated, as associates renewed calls for him to be freed for urgent medical treatment.
Saakashvili, 55, was sent to prison in 2021 for six years on charges of abusing his power while president of the small ex-Soviet state, a charge he says was politically motivated.
His health has deteriorated in prison, where he has staged repeated hunger strikes and alleges he was poisoned. He is being held and treated in a clinic in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
In a court hearing in which his team called for him to be allowed to receive treatment abroad, he lifted up his T-shirt to show the judge how much weight he had lost.
Citing medical records, Saakashvili’s team says his weight has dropped from 115 kg (254 pounds) when he was jailed in October 2021 to 68 kg (150 pounds) at a check-up this week.
His supporters say authorities are denying him proper treatment. Georgian authorities say he is feigning the gravity of his condition in order to secure early release.
A spokesman for Saakashvili, a pro-Western reformer who ran the republic from 2004 to 2013 and lost a brief war with Russia in 2008, told Reuters the former president was in a “life-threatening condition”.
After leaving power, Saakashvili worked with various Ukrainian administrations, including as an adviser on reforms to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and as governor of Ukraine’s southern Odesa region.
Zelenskiy decried Saakashvili’s condition, saying Georgian authorities were trying to kill him.
“The very fact that we still have to fight against such an attempt at de facto public execution of a person in Europe in the 21st century is a disgrace!” he said on Twitter.
Zelenskiy urged authorities to abide by European human rights protection norms, saying “I urge the world to help save Mikheil’s life and prevent his execution”.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Saakashvili spoke Ukrainian, wore a T-shirt with “I’m Ukrainian” printed across the front, and said he wanted to be buried in Kyiv should he die before his release, according to an Interfax translation of his statement.
Saakashvili’s supporters accuse the current Georgian government of adopting a pro-Kremlin position and of refusing to sufficiently back Ukraine.
(Reporting by Jake Cordell, with additional reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Ron Popeski;editing by Mark Heinrich and David Ljunggren)