Will Saakashvili's health become an argument in his favor at trial?
Mikheil Saakashvili’s health
Tbilisi City Court has filed a petition from lawyers of the third president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, demanding his immediate release as the prisoner has several incurable diseases that, by law, are incompatible with imprisonment.
Lawyers and relatives of the ex-president are sounding the alarm that Saakashvili’s health is deteriorating every day. There is a medical opinion that he has been poisoned with heavy metals. However, the government does not appear ready to make concessions.
Saakashvili has lost 43 kilos since being checked into the Vivamed clinic. He has fever, anorexia, cachexia, muscle, joint and bone pain, and muscle spasms, which may be the result of an unidentified infectious process and/or possible poisining.
People who have seen him say that Saakashvili is unrecognizable. He is very stiff, mostly lying down, talking slowly, and has tremors in his hands and eyes.
On December 2, American toxicologist professor David Smith published a report dated November 28, 2022, stating that Saakashvili had been poisoned with heavy metals. Traces of mercury and arsenic have been found in his hair and nails, the report says. It also states that such doses of these substances could not enter the body during drug treatment.
According to the professor, it is likely that these poisonous substances got into his body after imprisonment.
The patient must be transferred to an appropriate medical facility for examination and further investigation and treatment, David Smith writes.
On December 1 the Empathy Center had also published an opinion on Saakashvili’s health. It says that Saakashvili was “practically healthy” at the time of his arrest, while today he is in danger of death.
On December 4, Public Defender Nino Lomdzharia visited the clinic where Saakashvili is now. With her were doctors who are members of the medical council created under the office of the ombudsman, who periodically monitor the ex-president’s health. Here is what one of these doctors, Tengiz Tsuladze, said:
“He entered [the clinic] with a weight of 116 kilograms, and now weighs 73.6. The patient’s condition, in our opinion, is clearly serious; he has significant weight loss, much more than normal. Cachexia and significant weight loss are life-threatening. It has changed a lot since my last visit. There is deterioration in cognitive functions. The patient’s condition is very unstable.”
The main demand of the Saakashvili family, members of his team, oppositionists and civil society is to transfer Saakashvili abroad for treatment.
On December 3 the United National Movement party, created by Saakashvili, held a rally near the Vivamed clinic demanding that he be released. Some other politicians also joined the rally. The organizers of the action stated that they have no other political demands except having him sent abroad.
Prior to that, family members urged everyone to refrain from politicizing the situation. The family claim that Saakashvili has neither the desire nor the opportunity to participate in the Georgian political processes, and now only the question of his physical survival is at stake.
What will the court say?
Mikheil Saakashvili’s lawyers appealed to Tbilisi City Court for his release. The petition is based on a conclusion prepared by the Empathy Center, and this report states that Saakashvili has several incurable diseases incompatible with imprisonment.
“The diagnoses listed in the report are officially recognized as severe and incurable,” Saakashvili’s lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze told TV Pirveli. He also mentioned that up to 25 witnesses will be questioned at the hearing in this case.
Should release be refused, the defense will ask for the decision to be postponed.
“Based on the conclusion of the investigation and the evidence we presented to the court, I find it unlikely that the court will refuse to satisfy our petition,” lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze said.
Minister of Justice Rati Bregadze said that Saakashvili is undergoing full treatment in Georgia and that he would not be sent to another country for treatment. According to him, he is personally not familiar with the conclusion of the Empathy Center, although he knows what Saakashvili has been diagnosed with and believes he is receiving all conceivable treatment.
“It is better to talk about it with the doctors. But for my part, I can say that the state is doing everything possible to ensure that his right to health is fully realized – he always received relevant and adequate medical services from the state,” the minister said.
What is the government going to do?
The statements and position of President Salome Zurabishvili in relation to Saakashvili are being watched with special attention in the country, since it is the president, according to law, who can pardon him.
However, Zurabishvili said in an interview with the BBC that she does not yet have the authority to pardon Saakashvili, and even if she did, she would not do it:
“I don’t have the authority to do this for one simple reason: nothing has been determined yet, he is still on trial, and according to Georgian legislation a pardon is possible only thereafter,” Zurabashvili maintained.
When asked if she would pardon the ex-president when the trial was over, Zurabishvili replied: “That’s another question and I explained why I wouldn’t do it. It’s a polarization factor… I don’t think I should become a tool for more polarization.”
She added that she did not want “the president to die in prison or suffer irreparable harm.”
“I am publicly saying that he should be extradited, or I don’t know what term is used, so that he can receive additional treatment … this is a decision that the court must make,” the president said.
Her words are very similar to Georgian Dream’s position on Saakashvili, who says that he will lead to chaos and unrest in the country, and whoever wants this is a supporter of unrest.
“The only thing that drives these people who talk about Saakashvili’s release, inside or outside the country, is an interest in creating chaos in the country,” Irakli Kobakhidze averred.
In one of his latest statements, he said that if Zurabishvili pardons Saakashvili, it will be a choice “in favor of unrest.”
“Pardoning Saakashvili is the president’s prerogative. If Salome Zurabishvili makes a choice between peace and unrest in favor of the latter, society should appreciate it. I hope that the President will not do this,” Kobakhidze said.
“We continue to monitor his health. We are familiar with the new documentation and the report on his health, which has now become public,” US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan said.
According to the ambassador, it is important to take the appropriate steps to protect the health and rights of Saakashvili:
“We have repeatedly called on the government to ensure that Saakashvili receives appropriate treatment and that his rights are protected. It is after this report that it is important to take the appropriate steps that are necessary to protect his health and rights.”
EU Ambassador to Georgia Pavel Gerchinsky also said that the EU is monitoring Mikhail Saakashvili’s health and is in touch with his family.
Gerchinsky says that an EU representative will discuss with the Georgian authorities issues related to Saakashvili’s rights:
“We are closely monitoring the health of former President Mikheil Saakashvili. We are in contact with his family and also raise issues related to his rights. It is very important that his rights are fully protected. But, of course, decisions about his fate should be made by the Georgian court.”
Why do the authorities need a sick Saakashvili in prison?
The authorities do not want to remove the Saakashvili issue from the domestic political agenda because they have been using him for years, political analyst Gia Khukhashvili said in an interview with Interpressnews:
“The government considers Saakashvili in a purely political aspect. Saakashvili’s sentence will be commuted or he will be transferred for treatment abroad only after certain concessions. We saw that the chairman of Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, directly threatened Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili so that she would not even think of pardoning Saakashvili. When the conversation goes in this direction, it is clear that the authorities are reluctant to remove the Saakashvili factor from Georgian politics.”
Khukhashvili also does not rule out that Georgian Dream will use this to trade with the West for the status of EU membership candidate:
“The ruling party will not need to fulfill any conditions for the country to receive candidate status. The only goal of the government is to hold on to power unto the last.”
Mikheil Saakashvili was transferred to the Vivamed clinic on May 12, 2022, after his health deteriorated while in prison. Friends and family members who visited him at the time say that although he is in the hospital, his health continues to deteriorate day by day.
Saakashvili returned to Georgia at the end of September 2021. On October 1, he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison on two criminal charges. Three more cases were initiated against him, including illegal crossing of the state border.
On the day of his arrest, Saakashvili went on ahunger strike which lasted for fifty days, and which, according to doctors, severely damaged his health.