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3 Jul, 2023 18:36

Shocking images released of former US-backed 'revolutionary'

Ex-Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili appears to have suffered drastic weight loss since being imprisoned in his country of birth
Shocking images released of former US-backed 'revolutionary'

Images have appeared online showing Mikhail Saakashvili, the jailed former president of Georgia, appearing to be severely emaciated during an online court hearing.

The video footage and photos were posted on Monday, showing a grey-haired Saakashvili pulling up his shirt to show the state of his body. The former president, who was arrested in Georgia in October 2021, is serving a combined six years in prison for abuse of power and covering up evidence about a banker’s murder.

The images have triggered fresh condemnation from Ukraine, which granted Saakashvili citizenship in 2015 after he fled Georgia. Kiev has accused Tbilisi of mistreating the pro-Western former leader, who also served as governor of Odessa Region, before resigning in 2016.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has refused requests from Kiev to pardon Saakashvili, so that he can receive medical treatment abroad.

Mikhail Podoliak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, reacted to the new photos of Saakashvili by accusing Georgia of torturing its former head of state “slowly and cynically” to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He claimed that the Tbilisi government was ruining its “European prospects” and making Georgia “synonymous with cannibalism.”

Saakashvili, 55, has gone on hunger strikes since his arrest. His weight reportedly dropped from 115kg (254 pounds) in October 2021 to 74kg last December. He claimed earlier this year that he had been poisoned with high-density metals by “Russian agents” while in custody.

The Georgian government has accused Saakashvili of faking the severity of his illness and released footage of the inmate last December, showing his “offensive and aggressive behavior” toward hospital staffers. “This footage clearly shows that Mikheil Saakashvili is dissembling in order to obstruct the enforcement of justice and mislead the public and international partners,” the Georgian Special Penitentiary Service said at the time. Georgian medics have blamed his dramatic weight loss on his refusals to eat.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, called the latest footage of Saakashvili “horrifying.” He added: “President of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili refuses to pardon Saakashvili. He is obviously in a bad state and needs medical treatment.”

Georgia has faced international pressure to join in US-led sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict. Air traffic between Georgia and Russia resumed in May under a decree signed by Putin.

Saakashvili was president from 2004 to 2013, and launched an attack against the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008. The attack killed a number of Russian peacekeepers in the region, triggering a five-day conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow.