On 1 December, the defense lawyers of imprisoned former President, Mikheil Saakashvili, petitioned the Tbilisi City Court to either release Saakashvili or to postpone his sentence in accordance with the provisions of the law, for health reasons.
The petition was presented by one of his lawyers, Shalva Khachapuridze, who explained that the 15-volume petition details the conclusions of medical experts, which are based on a physical examination of the former President, and also contain the photos that they took during that time.
The lawyers expressed hope, that the Court will deliberate in the shortest possible time and will interview roughly 25 relevant witnesses. According to Khachapuridze, “it is inconceivable for the Court to not make a decision to release or to postpone [Saakashvili’s] sentence based on […] the materials attached to the case.”
Khachapuridze underscored that the failure of the Court to take such a decision would be in contravention of the law, and would “mean the death sentence” for Saakashvili.
Article 283 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, says the sentence can be deferred on health grounds until the recovery or substantial improvement of the condition, based on the report of a forensic medical examination suggesting the convict has a serious illness that prevents them from serving their sentence. Article 284 of the same code says the sentence may be lifted due to old age, as well as serious, or terminal illness.
What do the doctors say?
On 1 December the psycho-rehabilitation center “Empathy” which is engaged by Saakashvili’s side published parts of its 2,980-page report on Saakashvili’s health, covering the period from 1 June to 28 November 2022. This document served as the basis for the defense lawyers’ appeal. The report reads that the former president has been diagnosed with more than 20 diagnoses or symptoms, of which “about 10 leading causes make his condition incompatible with imprisonment.”
While the center did not release a specific diagnosis, according to the report, Saakashvili experiences unexplained and prolonged fever, anorexia, rapid weight loss, muscular and joints pains, as well as muscle spasms, which – the conclusion reads – may be the result of an unidentified infectious process and/or a possible intoxication.
According to the center, the condition requires complex diagnostic tests and prolonged surveillance of the kind that is not currently available in Georgia, to rule out infection and/or intoxication. The conclusion further says that if the current dynamic of deterioration of health condition persists, potential intoxication is “expected to result in a coma and death.”
Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairperson of the Georgian Dream party, reacted that the Center is biased as it is “directly linked” with the United National Movement (UNM), therefore, he claimed, “this organization’s trustworthiness equals zero.”
Unable to attend court
Despite the statements of the majority party officials, the deterioration of Saakashvili’s health returned to the media spotlight on 28 November, when his treating doctors – mandated by the penitentiary – did not clear his transfer to the Courtroom to attend the hearing.
The presiding judge in the case, Nino Chakhnashvili, stated at the opening of the hearing, that the doctors of the clinic “Vivamedi” – where Saakashvili is being treated by the Justice Ministry’s decision – found his health condition too frail for the transfer to the courtroom. Judge Chakhnashvili postponed the hearing without setting a new date. Given that the clinic “Vivamedi” is just a short car-ride away from the courtroom, observers inferred that Saakashvili’s condition is indeed serious.
What does Public Defender say?
On 28 November, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria who visited Saakashvili personally confirmed the deterioration of his state compared to last year. Lomjaria said, “his health condition has deteriorated sharply, which is visually apparent”, remarking that Saakashvili has lost a lot of weight and that the clinic’s doctors confirmed that he “practically lies down all the time.” She also said the meeting lasted for ten minutes because “it’s difficult for him [Saakashvili] to talk longer.” The Public Defender later met with President Salome Zurabishvili on 30 November to inform her about Saakashvili’s health condition.
The Public Defender confirmed on 2 December, that her office received a copy of the appeal submitted to the Court by Saakashvili’s lawyers. Lomjaria said she was not at liberty to disclose the findings and precise diagnosis, but confirmed that Public Defender’s office is “actively consulting” medical professionals of an ad-hoc team especially set up for this purpose, and is considering filing an Amicus Curiae opinion to the Court.
Justice Minister briefs the press
On 29 November, Justice Minister Rati Bregadze also addressed the ex-President’s health condition in a briefing, which maintained that since his arrest, Saakashvili has “enjoyed all rights granted to him by the law” and “to this day is under the supervision of highly qualified medical personnel.”
The Justice Minister did note that “due to the high level of responsibility which the state attaches to the life and health of each person,” the government has proposed to Saakashvili to “bring any doctor from any foreign clinic whom the state will give the opportunity to be involved in his treatment.”
Regarding calls for transferring Saakashvili abroad for treatment, Minister Bregadze explained that the “Justice Ministry does not have the legal leverage for initiating such a request.” He explained that in light of Saakashvili’s deteriorating health, the defense should petition the Court – which they subsequently did. Minister Bregadze underscored that the only legal path is for the Court to decide whether Saakashvili should be released from his sentence or have it postponed.
“Georgian Dream” dismissive
The leaders of the “Georgian Dream” have continued to express doubts that Saakashvili is simulating the deterioration of his health, even as officially mandated doctors considered it impossible for him to appear in court.
“Saakashvili’s friend, Yulia Tymoshenko left prison in a wheelchair but the next day she jumped out of the wheelchair, it was a simulation – might we be dealing with a similar simulation?” GD leader, Kobakhidze asked rhetorically.
The official line has evolved somewhat on 1 December. In a coordinated manner, GD leaders focused largely on a report published by Rustavi 2, which claimed that Saakashvili’s mother, Giuli Alasania, hired a “lobbying company” to justify the need to transfer her son abroad. Commenting on this report Alasania confirmed they hired the company to facilitate transfer, but stressed that this was a legal, rather than public relations company.
Kobakhidze claimed – without backing up his statement with facts – that the United National Movement (UNM), “made all kinds of efforts to facilitate Saakashvili’s release, they called on Saakashvili to inflict self-harm.”
“Now they have chosen a new tactic – this is the hiring of a PR company [aiming to] make people feel guilty for Saakashvili, to create some background noise for his release,” he said, adding “this is wrong in principle – a prisoner should serve his sentence in accordance with the law.”
The majority party leader further claimed, the UNM party was aiming to foster “disruption”, which is “not in the interests of our country.”
“No lobbying campaign can convince us or the public that this person is not guilty and that his release is appropriate,” Kobakhidze stressed.
“It’s probably the first time in the world that an illness has a lobbyist when a PR company lobbies for an illness and under such auspices takes some responsibility for the release of a person,” Mamuka Mdinaradze, the chairperson of Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, remarked in unison.
According to Mikheil Sarjveladze, the chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, argued that Saakashvili’s supporters are not really worried about his health, but try to achieve the “political objective” of “Saakashvili evading punishment”.
Sarjveladze claimed, the ex-President’s team “know very well that there is no critical situation and [Saakashvili] has no particular difficulty.” “He [Saakashvili] has a psychological problem, he can not get accustomed to the prison cell, but nowhere, in no civilization, prisoners are released for that reason,” Sarjveladze asserted.
Former Minister of Health, MP David Sergeenko, diverged from the party talking points, arguing that “only a practicing doctor may raise questions about the medical report, not a politician” he said politicizing the issue only “hurts the health of this person [Mikheil Saakashvili].”