Mikheil Saakashvili has become yesterday Georgia’s first former President to be appear in the dock as he was brought from Gori Military Hospital to Tbilisi City Court on trial accused of exceeding authority during November 7, 2007 crackdown on anti-government protests.
The ex-President was previously denied by the Penitentiary Service the courtroom appearance three times during his 50-days-long strike following his arrest on October 1, on the eve of local elections.
Saakashvili is already convicted in absentia by three instances of Georgian courts and is sentenced to six years in jail, including three years over pardoning police officials implicated in high-profile Sandro Girgvliani murder case and six years over beating up then opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili. He is further charged in three more cases, including November 7 case, embezzling public funds and the latest of illegal border crossing from on the night of September 28-29.
“I don’t recognize the prosecution and Georgian judiciary, I am not here to be part of a planned comedy,” Saakashvili addressed the audience before the trial began, rejecting all charges and verdicts.
Saakashvili’s Courtroom Address
Despite the objections of the prosecutors, the panel of three justices let Saakashvili speak at length, citing his right as a defendant to do so, his standing as a former official, and the history of in absentia hearings in the case.
Saakashvili began by listing motives behind his return to Georgia, saying he abandoned materially better-off life and career in Ukraine as he was “madly in love with Georgia.” “The feeling that I and we, as Georgians, are losing everything became more and more unbearable.”
In his hour and twenty minutes long address, Saakashvili said he is a personal prisoner of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing the Georgian Dream authorities of letting Moscow take over the country.
“I became the first Georgian leader, following King Luarsab – it happened 400 years ago – who has been imprisoned. It is the greatest shame for everyone, who takes part in this… I do not believe that they [the authorities] are Georgians. This is a classical Russian combination,” Saakashvili alleged.
Quoting his “favorite President Ronald Reagan,” that “we are always one generation away from losing independence,” Saakashvili said “probably, the time has come when this is what is happening in front of us right now.”
- November 2007 Case
In his lengthy address, the former President also responded charges brought against him by the Georgian Dream authorities.
Speaking of November 2007 protest dispersal, Saakashvili said his government then averted the Russian plot which aimed to derail Georgia from NATO membership, with oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili and his Imedi TV serving as key agents provocateur.
Citing an information exchange with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Saakashvili claimed three Russian FSB generals met Patarkatsishvili in Minsk to relay note from Putin that the oligarch would become the next president of Georgia. He further cited warning missive from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation that Georgia-native crime bosses met in Yerevan to plan unrest in Tbilisi.
Saakashvili rebuffed allegations that he instructed the dispersal of November 7, 2007 protest rallies in Tbilisi, noting he watched the crackdown through TV as the Interior Minister was doing the job. “Very young and inexperienced” police did their job the best they could, he said.
The former President noted “such things happen in many countries and nobody thinks of initiating cases into them except for exceptional maniacs,” also reminding the Georgian Dream authorities of their violent dispersal of June 20, 2019 anti-occupation protests.
But the former President admitted that not all people who hit the streets back then were Russian stooges. He recalled “painful” reforms leaving some poorer, many unable to switch to the new rails, and high-level inflation, as creating “objective possibility” for citizens to be angry with his government.
Saakashvili also pointed out that he resigned after the rally dispersal, and that the Georgian people delivered the verdict on this case by electing his again in January 2008. “Why did I do this? To foil Russia’s plans, so that these demonstrations would not obstruct our NATO integration.”
- Pardoning & Gelashvili Beating Cases
Saakashvili also spoke of cases he had been convicted — the pardons case and the case of beting MP Valeri Gelashvili.
Albeit noting that the murder of 28-year-old banker Sandro Girgvliani was “a tragedy,” Saakashvili said “the so-called Girgvliani case, in reality has nothing to do with the Girgvliani case and was dubbed so only for PR purposes.”
He noted that the arrested former officers were not given a special treatment but rather got their sentences halved as part of post-2008-war amnesty, adding that six months past after the amnesty the two judges released convicted officers on parole.
“One of these judges is now trying me in the so-called Case of Suits [misappropriation of funds case]. Is it really this dark, people?”, Saakashvili wondered.
Questioning the quality of witnesses, the former President also dismissed the six-year sentence in MP Gelashvili Beating Case as relying on hearsay. “The only testimony into Gelashvili’s case is a classical hearsay as in I heard that he heard.”
“And there is no surprise that when they delivered this sentence and sent it to Interpol, the latter laughed out and tore up your verdict over your heads,” Saakashvili continued, adding: “I talked to the Deputy Director of Interpol, who said that your [Georgian] prosecutor’s office is shameful.”
- Court “Biggest Mistake”
“Did I have mistakes? More than enough. Many are such mistakes that I very, very much regret,” Saakashvili continued, citing the court reform as his worst mistake.
Recalling how late Culture Minister Nika Rurua who warned him about the dire consequences of the judiciary subjugated to the prosecutors, Saakashvili offered apologies “to all those who were affected by, and for all other mistakes.”
But, the former President asserted, “mistakes and misdemeanors are one thing, but crime – quite another.”
Speaking about himself in the third person, Saakashvili said “the founder of a Georgian state could not have been a criminal because the criminals do not found states, they destroy them.”
Tense Protest Outside Court
Saakashvili’s supporters have 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 using pepper spray to clear the area.
Media representatives were also affected during the skirmish. TV Kavkasia cameraman reportedly lost his consciousness temporarily as he was confronted – albeit not directly – by police pepper spray. In another episode, police was seen trying to drag down TV Kavkasia and Formula TV cameraman from a nearby fence, after two men tried to cover skirmishes between the police and protesters.
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).
Former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava was also detained, who media footage showed was forced into a police car after a verbal altercation with a police officer. Ugulava is himself facing accusations in November 7, 2007 case, along with ex-Justice Minister Adeishvili, and then Interior Minister Merabishvili.
The next hearing into November 7, 2007 case is slated for December 23, while the embezzlement case hearing is scheduled for November 2.