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Georgian ex-president Saakashvili goes on trial

November 29, 2021

Opposition leader and former president Mikheil Saakashvili says charges against him for his role in suppressing a 2007 protest are "trumped up." Amnesty International called his arrest "political revenge."

Georgia's ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, a defendant in the 7 November 2007 rally dispersal and attack on Imedi TV office case, appears at a hearing at Tbilisi City Court
Georgia's ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili rejects charges over his handling of a 2007 protest Image: Irakli Gedenidze/dpa/picture alliance

Georgia's ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday branded charges of abuse of power "politically motivated" in his first appearance at a Tbilisi court.

The 53-year-old was arrested on October 1 after returning to Georgia from exile to try to boost opposition support ahead of municipal elections.

Saakashvili went on a 50-day hunger strike to protest his treatment in jail. He ended the strike when authorities agreed to move him from a prison clinic to a military hospital on November 20.

What did the former Georgian president say?

Looking pale after having lost 20 kilograms (44 pounds), Saakashvili said he was not guilty of charges that he used excessive force against a 2007 opposition demonstration when he was president. He was the head of Georgia's government between 2004 and 2013, and is the current leader of the opposition.

"Everyone knows I must not be in jail because all the charges against me are trumped up and politically motivated," Saakashvili said from a glass box in the Tbilisi City Court.

His lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told the AFP news agency that the ex-president "had no role whatsoever in ordering and planning the police operation" to break up the 2007 protest.

Georgians assemble outside the court to support Mikhail Saakashvili in his trial
Georgians assembled outside the court where Mikheil Saakashvili was on trialImage: Aleksander Burakov/DW

"Prosecutors have failed to present any evidence of Saakashvili's wrongdoing," he added.

Last week, Saakashvili posted on Facebook that there was "zero chance" he would see justice in the ongoing trial, which he was only allowed to attend in person after pressure from the US Department of State.

Saakashvili admitted making "numerous mistakes," in particular having "failed to build an independent judiciary," he said.

Outside the court, about 1,000 opposition supporters waved Georgian and European Union flags while chanting his name.

Claims of torture in custody

Saakashvili returned to Georgia in October in an effort to bolster opposition support in nationwide municipal elections.

Authorities immediately put him behind bars as part of a six-year sentence for abuse of office that was handed down by a Georgian judge in 2018 while Saakashvili was outside the country. 

His arrest prompted huge rallies, with thousands marching in his support.

The ex-president then went on a hunger strike for seven weeks, claiming he was abused in custody.

"I was tortured, I was treated inhumanely, beaten up, and humiliated," he said in Monday's court case.

Georgian human rights groups called his treatment psychological torture and Amnesty International said it amounted to "political revenge."

Saakashvili only stopped his hunger strike after doctors said he had suffered neurological damage, was in danger of death, and should be transferred from the prison clinic.

Critics accuse the governing Georgian Dream Party of using the courts to punish political opponents and journalists.

jc/nm (AFP, AP)