Protests in Georgia as ex-leader Saakashvili goes on trial

Supporters of the 'United National Movement' rally against the arrest of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in front of the Tbilisi City Court in Tbilisi, Georgia, 29 November 2021. Saakashvili appeared in court on 29 November as his trial resumed over charges of abuse of power during his presidency. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

Georgia police arrested Monday (29 November) dozens of opposition supporters who rallied outside the court where ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili faced trial on abuse of office charges which he has denounced as politically motivated.

It was Saakashvili’s first courtroom appearance since the Caucasus country’s top opposition leader was arrested on 1 October shortly after his return from exile. Georgia’s president in 2004-2013, Saakashvili had refused food for 50 days to protest his prosecution.

On Monday, Saakashvili was seen sitting in a glass box in the courtroom, according to a short mobile phone video broadcast by independent Pirveli TV station, as more than 1,000 supporters rallied outside the court, waving Georgian and European Union flags and chanting his name.

Police arrested several dozen demonstrators after they blocked traffic at a nearby street, pro-opposition Mtavari TV said.

Saakashvili called off the hunger strike when he was moved to a military hospital on 20 November after doctors warned he could soon die.

The Georgian authorities initially banned him from attending the trial, but later reversed the decision, after the US Department of State demanded Saakashvili’s right to a fair trial be respected.

US urges Georgia to treat ex-president on hunger strike with dignity

The United States on Thursday (18 November) urged Georgia to provide humane treatment to jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on a hunger strike for weeks is now reported to be in critical condition.

“I am not afraid of appearing before a just court and to defend my truth before the Georgian people,” Saakashvili said on Facebook last week, but added that he believed there was “zero chance” that he will see justice “in this court.”

In 2018, Saakashvili was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison on two counts of abuse of office and is facing two more trials on similar charges.

He has insisted all the charges against him are politically motivated.

Monday’s trial concerns Saakashvili’s alleged role in a violent police crackdown on an opposition protest in 2007.

Saakashvili at the time admitted that police used excessive force against protesters, resigned and called snap presidential polls, which he subsequently won.

His lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP that Saakashvili “had no role whatsoever in ordering and planning the police operation.”

“Prosecutors have failed to present any evidence of Saakashvili’s wrongdoing.”

Amnesty International has condemned Saakashvili’s treatment and branded it “not just selective justice but apparent political revenge.”

Critics have accused the Georgian government of using criminal prosecutions to punish political opponents and journalists.

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