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Saakashvili Transferred to Court Hearing

Jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently recovering at Gori Military Hospital following his 50-day hunger strike, was transferred to Tbilisi City Court for his trial hearing on exceeding official authority in a series of events, including disbanding the 2007 anti-government protests and a raid on and “seizure” of Imedi TV station, then a government-critical channel.

Scores of Saakashvili’s supporters are gathered in the vicinity of the Tbilisi City Court, where the situation got tense as supporters climbed up on a nearby fence and security cabin, with police reportedly using pepper spray to clear the area.

Footage showed several people being treated in an ambulance car. The activists then blocked the road leading to the Court building.

The Interior Ministry reported they detained 15 persons on administrative grounds for disorderly conduct (Article 166 of Administrative Offences Code) and non-compliance with a lawful order or demand of a law enforcement officer (Article 173).

The Ministry also said the police used proportional force and special means against “protesters that failed to comply with police officers’ lawful orders and resisted with violent methods.”

Among the detainees is opposition politician and UNM-era Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, who media footage showed was forced into a police car after a verbal altercation with a police officer.

Reactions to the transfer

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan stated “we are very glad that Mr. Saakashvili’s condition allows him to attend today.” She recalled that the U.S. has previously called for allowing the ex-President’s attendance during his court hearings, as “part of his right to appear at his trial.”

The Ambassador said it is also “enshrined in Georgia’s constitution, that all defendants have a right to a fair trial, including attending in person if they so desire.”

She also expressed her hope that Saakashvili’s supporters will act responsibly during the trial and “not interfere with the administration of justice.”

Speaking with Formula TV, Ako Minashvili of the UNM, attributed the decision of allowing Saakashvili to attend his hearing to the pressure the authorities faced from citizens, international partners, Public Defender, and local and international civil society organizations. “It is the result of that common effort, the result of the vigorous actions that have been carried out all this time,” he stressed.

Background

Previously, on November 10, the Special Penitentiary Service denied Saakashvili the transfer to his hearing on the same case citing security risks and health concerns amid Saakashvili’s weeks-long hunger strike. On November 14 and 16, he was similarly denied the possibility to attend his trial on hearings dealing with charges of misappropriation of public funds and illegal state border crossing, respectively.

The Public Defender lambasted the Penitantiery’s decisions on November 16, calling on the court to ensure the accused has the opportunity to partake and protect his rights at trials. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on November 18 also urged the Georgian authorities to allow Saakashvili to attend ongoing court hearings, “in line with international law.”

Saakashvili, who arrived secretly in Georgia in late September after eight years in exile, was arrested on October 1, on the eve of local elections. He declared a hunger strike on the day of his detention, calling it off some 49 days later on November 19, after he was admitted to Gori Military Hospital. He is convicted in two cases in absentia and faces charges in three more. He denies all charges as politically motivated. Originally held in Rustavi prison, he was forcibly transferred to Gldani prison hospital amid his declining health on November 8. He was transferred to Gori Military Hospital on November 19, a day after his health drastically deteriorated – he temporarily lost consciousness and collapsed.

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