Rallies Demanding Release of Former Georgian President Saakashvili Held in Many Countries
People attend a rally in support of Georgia's jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, at the Bridge of Peace in Tbilisi, Georgia January 4, 2023. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
(RFE.RL) Demonstrators in several European Union capitals and other nations around the world have held rallies in front of Georgian diplomatic missions to demand the immediate release of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison due to the deteriorating state of his health.
The action #SaveMisha was held on January 4 in more than 15 countries. Photos from demonstrations in Barcelona, Munich, and Riga were among those posted and shared at #SaveMisha on Twitter.
In Georgia, Saakashvili’s supporters gathered in the village of Chorvila, the birthplace of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Saakashvili rival who founded the ruling Georgian Dream political party and is a former prime minister. Ivanishvili is believed to still wield great influence in the politics of the Georgian government.
Supporters of Saakashvili, who is a Ukrainian citizen, had planned to march to Ivanishvili's house with a banner emblazoned with the words "Freedom to Misha," but they were stopped by Ivanishvili supporters, who blocked the way to the site and brawled with the demonstrators.
Saakashvili’s supporters also held rallies in Tbilisi and several other cities in Georgia on January 4.
Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.
His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration. He currently is being treated at a Tbilisi clinic, but lawyers have sought to have his sentence suspended so he can be transferred abroad for more intensive care.
In early December, Saakashvili's legal team distributed a medical report that said he had been "poisoned" with heavy metals while in custody and risked dying without proper treatment.
But Georgian officials have raised doubts about how critical the situation is.
Saakashvili is currently on trial on separate charges of violently dispersing an anti-government rally in November 2007 and illegal border crossing. He has rejected those charges as well, calling them trumped up.
A court in Tbilisi is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether to defer or suspend Saakashvili’s case on January 9.