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Patriarch Ilia II urges Saakashvili to end hunger strike

7 October 2021
Mikheil Saakashvili being blessed by Patriarch Ilia II during his inauguration in 2008 at the Bagrati Cathedral. Official photo.

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, has urged former president Mikheil Saakashvili to end his hunger strike.

On 1 October, hours after he was placed in the 12th Prison in the city of Rustavi, Saakashvili announced he was going on hunger strike demanding his freedom.

The former Georgian President faces a minimum of six years in prison after being convicted in absentia on several counts of abuse of power, including ordering an attack on political opponent Valeri Gelashvili and illegally promising to pardon law enforcement officers implicated in the 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani.

According to the Church, Ilia II sent his blessings to Saakashvili on 7 October via his secretary, Mikael Botkoveli, who visited him in the prison. The Church said he ‘asked in the name of the Church, as in other similar cases, to stop his hunger strike because it is a non-Christian deed’.

Coming out of the meeting, Botkoveli told journalists that Saakashvili had told him he did not intend to stop his protest.

Saakashvili, who had vowed multiple times to return to Georgia after leaving in 2013, partially overshadowed the 2 October municipal elections after publishing booked tickets for the Kyiv-Tbilisi air trip on 27 September. 

However, according to Georgian authorities, Saakashvili, whom the police apprehended in a Tbilisi flat on 1 October, arrived in Georgia on 29 September. It is unclear how he crossed into Georgia from Ukraine, where he currently serves on the National Reform Council.

On 4 October, Saakashvili reiterated that he would not end his protest and that he had forbidden doctors to intervene if he loses consciousness. 

Allegations of drug abuse

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has recently received a barrage of criticism after publishing a long post on Facebook on 6 October about Saakashvili.

The PM speculated that the former president could be a drug addict, adding that it could not be a convincing explanation for Saakashvili ‘miscalculating’ his decision to return to Georgia to ‘stage a coup’. 

The ruling party recently made similar accusations against Giorgi Gakharia, who until February served as Prime Minister before stepping down and leaving the party over a raid on the opposition HQ.

[Read more: As Georgian Dream doubles down on 'cokehead' claims, Gakharia goes to the prosecutor]

In an earlier interview with TV channel Imedi on 4 October, the Prime Minister also threatened to press more ‘articles’, criminal charges, against Saakashvili unless he ‘behaved’. 

‘It is a blunt recognition by the Georgian Prime Minister that the case against Saakashvili is political. Deplorable and incompatible with the status of EU Associated country’, Lithuan MEP Rasa Juknevičienė said in response to Gharibashvili’s threat a day later.

‘We had to catch Saakashvili or he had to leave politics. This man doesn’t leave politics, doesn’t apologise, doesn’t ask to be pardoned’, Gharibashvili complained earlier in the interview.

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