The health of Georgia’s jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili continues to rapidly decline, leading to calls for the government to take action before his condition becomes even more dire.
People who have recently visited Saakashvili in the hospital – including his lawyers, family members, and Georgia’s public defender – have raised alarms about the former president’s condition.
“The situation is indeed severe and with this dynamic, it will become critical in a few months,” Nino Lomjaria, Georgia’s public defender, told reporters after visiting Saakashvili on December 4.
“He was admitted [to the hospital] weighing 116 kilograms, and we have just weighed him 73.6 kilograms,” Tengiz Tsuladze, a doctor from the medical group assembled by the public defender, said following the December 4 visit. “The condition of the patient, in our view, is unequivocally grave, he suffers from significant weight loss, far bigger than admissible.”
Doctors from the group reported that Saakashvili is suffering from multiple complications including a lack of coordination, cognitive impairment, profound weakness, and cachexia, a syndrome associated with ongoing muscle loss.
Now the office of the public defender, which has for more than a year played the key role in monitoring and communicating to the public about Saakashvili’s health, is preparing a medical report as the court is expected to consider suspending his sentence this week following a request by Saakashvili’s lawyers. The ombudsperson said she will act according to the results of the medical report.
Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s supporters have been pushing for the government to transfer him abroad for treatment. The issue attracted international attention, including from Maia Sandu, the president of Moldova, who expressed concerns about Saakashvili’s deteriorating health in a tweet on December 4, calling for his immediate transfer to an “appropriate hospital.”
Andrey Kasyanov, a representative of the Ukrainian embassy in Georgia, also expressed concerns about the health of Saakashvili, a Ukrainian citizen, on December 6, saying he would be discussing it in a meeting with Georgian foreign ministry officials.
Saakashvili, who moved to Ukraine after losing power in 2013, controversially returned to Georgia last September, smuggling himself into the country on the eve of critical municipal elections. He had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison on two abuse of power charges, including pardoning police officials as part of a crime cover-up scheme and organizing an attack on an opposition deputy.
He was pending trial on two others, and attracted new charges of illegal entry into the country. Upon his arrival he was immediately jailed by Georgian authorities and he has been in and out of courts since.
He has been in and out of hospitals, as well, struggling with recurring health complications following his decision to go on a 50-day hunger strike on the day of his arrest.
For more than a year, his health has been a matter of political controversy as the authorities have repeatedly been accused of not providing him proper medical care. He was admitted to Tbilisi’s Vivamedi hospital on May 12 after a previous setback, and he has remained there since. But concerns about his condition again intensified late this November, after the hospital did not allow his transfer to court for a trial on the illegal border-crossing charges, citing his worsening condition.
Earlier, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili also expressed concerns about the former president’s condition, although she has repeatedly refused entreaties to pardon Saakashvili.
“This is a very important issue for the country’s reputation and our dignity,” Zourabichvili told reporters on November 24, adding that she regularly was briefed on her predecessor’s condition. Should a medical report emerge confirming Saakashvili’s worsened condition, she said, “it should be presented to the court and the court should make a dignified decision.”
Controversy further intensified after a recent medical report by an American toxicologist was distributed by Saakashvili’s legal team, suggesting he might have been subjected to “heavy metal poisoning” while in prison.
Given the insinuations by Saakashvili supporters about the government’s maltreatment of him, the ex-president’s family has sought to nip speculation in the bud. Saakashvili “is not accusing the Georgian authorities of poisoning,” Giuli Alasania, the former president’s mother told reporters on December 2. She instead implied that it may have been Russia who was behind the alleged poisoning.
Still, the Georgian government so far refused to consider releasing Saakashvili. Justice Minister Rati Bregadze has rejected the possibility of sending him abroad for treatment, saying that Saakashvili should be treated just like any other Georgian inmate.
The leaders of the ruling Georgian Dream party, meanwhile, accused the political opposition of using Saakashvili’s case as a political tool.
“They ask us to make this decision, to release Saakashvili, politically, to stir up the country,” Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakhidze told reporters on December 1. “Of course, we cannot make such a decision.”
Nini Gabritchidze is a Tbilisi-based journalist.