Georgien has experience with incriminating videos of inmates. About ten years ago, footage of torture in prisons contributed to the United National Movement (UNM) of then President Mikheil Saakashvili losing power in parliamentary elections. Now the country’s Ministry of Justice has released pictures showing Saakashvili in a treatment room. Sometimes he lies down, sometimes he falls out of bed, sometimes he throws something and argues with unrecognizable people. At the very end of the approximately ten-minute clip, he sluggishly walks with a support and falls into an armchair, allegedly on Monday last week.
Depending on your point of view, the pictures document a clear deterioration in the health of the 55-year-old Saakashvili – or that he is only “simulating”, as the Ministry of Justice said. It justified last week’s publication by saying that Saakashvili was trying to obstruct the execution of justice and to mislead Georgian society and the country’s “international partners”.
Saakashvili returned to his homeland from Ukraine last fall. The occasion was local elections, which were considered an important test for the ruling party “Georgian Dream”. Its founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is Saakashvili’s great opponent. The former president (2004-2013) sees Ivanishvili as a henchman for his even bigger adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Saakashvili was quickly arrested after his return and went on a hunger strike. He was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for “abuse of power” in 2018. Three other criminal cases are pending. Saakashvili rejects all accusations as political persecution.
The EU sets twelve conditions
He has been treated for more than a year. In early November 2021, he was transferred from a prison in Rustavi to the infirmary of another prison. Even then, videos appeared that were obviously intended to harm Saakashvili. Soon after, he was taken to a military hospital in the city of Gori and ended his hunger strike after 50 days. Saakashvili has been treated in a civilian hospital in the capital, Tbilisi, since May. The recordings, the publication of which the ministry justified with “great public interest”, come from there. Saakashvili’s lawyers complained that the pictures were illegal because they were published without the consent of the person concerned.
Saakashvili’s relatives and the UNM are so concerned about his condition that they suspect his life is in danger. Defense attorneys published in early December a report by an American toxicologist who, based on Saakashvili’s nails and hair, concluded that he had been “poisoned with a heavy metal” and was also in danger from a mixture of mismatched drugs. Shortly thereafter, a medical expert group appointed by Georgia’s Human Rights Commissioner concluded that Saakashvili’s health had “suddenly deteriorated” and was “serious”. Saakashvili quickly lost weight and muscle mass, and suffers from anemia and anorexia. The current therapy is “not effective”.
Human rights commissioner Nino Lomjaria said afterwards that Saakashvili’s prison sentence should at least be suspended. Last Thursday, four of Saakashvili’s supporters began a hunger strike in parliament in a bid to get Saakashvili transferred to another country for treatment. But so far the government has been letting all appeals come to nothing; from the government camp he is referred to as a “historical criminal”.
For Georgia, the case is uncomfortable. He is exposing the country to growing criticism from Western partner countries from the EU and NATO. As early as June, when the EU accepted Ukraine and Moldova as candidate countries, it refused Georgia this status. The main reasons for this were the instrumentalization of the judiciary against members of the opposition and the excessive political influence of Ivanishvili, who holds no office but informally determines government policy. In order to become a candidate country, Georgia must now meet twelve conditions. These include “de-oligarchization”, judicial reform, strengthening media freedom, and efforts to overcome political polarization in the country.
Last week, the EU Parliament approved a report on the status of relations with Georgia with a clear majority, in which the development in the country is assessed even more critically than before. It calls for personal sanctions against Ivanishvili in the event that the suspicion that his companies are involved in circumventing sanctions against Russia is substantiated. The EU Parliament also takes up the case of Saakashvili in the resolution. The Georgian authorities have full responsibility for his health and “must be held responsible if anything happens to him”. Parliament is demanding that Saakashvili be allowed to be treated abroad. If the former president remains in prison, “then that will of course affect how we assess the fulfillment of the twelve priorities,” says the CDU MEP Michael Gahler.