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Hunger-striking former Georgian president pens letter from prison

Mikheil Saakashvili, who was arrested on return from Ukraine to Georgia, claims democracy in his country is moribund

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Georgian Police officers escort former President Mikheil Saakashvili after he was arrested in Rustavi, Georgia, on Friday, October 1, 2021. (Georgian Interior Ministry Press Service via AP)
Georgian Police officers escort former President Mikheil Saakashvili after he was arrested in Rustavi, Georgia, on Friday, October 1, 2021. (Georgian Interior Ministry Press Service via AP)

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is on the seventh day of a hunger strike in prison after he was arrested in Tbilisi on October 1.

On October 6, a person close to Saakashvili sent The Times of Israel and other media outlets a letter he wrote from prison, in shaky handwriting, asking them to publish it.

“I’m appealing for help, but not for myself, but for a Georgian democracy, by taking this desperate step of coming and turning myself in,” he wrote. “ I wanted both to express solidarity to my suffering nation and awaken the conscience of the world.”

Saakashvili arrived in Georgia just ahead of the country’s scheduled municipal elections on October 2, 2021, hoping to lead the United National Movement party to victory. Saakashvili has been described as the party’s de facto leader even though its formal head is Nika Melia. He led the small Eurasian country from 2004 to 2012 and has since been living in exile, mostly in Ukraine.

According to reports, a week before the elections, Saakashvili posted a photo on his Facebook page of a Kyiv-Tbilisi plane ticket for election day. On election day itself, he posted videos of himself in the Georgian city of Batumi and encouraged viewers to vote for the United National Movement. Later that day, Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, announced that he had been arrested.

After the Georgian Dream party came to power in 2013, Saakashvili was tried and convicted in absentia in several cases in Georgia. Saakashvili claims the convictions were politically motivated. Saakashvili describes himself as a pro-Western reformer while depicting his chief rival, Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, as an authoritarian. Opposition parties claim that the parliamentary elections of 2020, which the Georgian Dream party won, were rigged.

Georgian Dream won 47 percent of the vote in the municipal elections, with the United National Movement receiving only 31%.

Tens of thousands of Georgians immigrated to Israel in the 1970s and 1990s and the two countries play roles in each others’ culture and politics.

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