For the first time in Georgia’s post-independence history, a former head of state has appeared in court to face trial over power abuse charges, one among several charges that Mikheil Saakashvili faces after his recent return to Georgia following an 8-year absence.
After being denied an appearance in front of the court several times by Georgia’s Penitentiary Service, the third Georgian president was delivered to court today for his first hearing.
Saakashvili, who was apprehended in Tbilisi on 1 October, faces charges of abusing official powers, including the violent dispersal of anti-government demonstrations in November 2007 in Tbilisi, ordering the storming and shutting down the pro-opposition TV channel Imedi, and illegally taking over the assets of its owner, opposition leader and Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.
Still recovering from a 50-day hunger strike and looking thinner than usual, Saakashvili made an hour-long speech that, in spite of objections from prosecutors, went well beyond the 2007 events.
‘I want to ask everyone to set up a committee in their own yard and village, to set Mikheil Saakashvili free from Putin. If you want me to help you, I should not be sitting among the prison guards, nor should I be peeping through this enclosed space’, Saakashvili urged his supporters.
‘Did we make mistakes? More than enough! There are a lot of mistakes that I deeply, deeply regret. I again apologise, but making mistakes is one thing, and committing a crime is another. I am Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgia did not have a criminal for a president!’
Saakashvili’s words were followed by applause by some among the crowds that listened to his speech being broadcast outside the Court.
The former Georgian president described his transfer from Rustavi Prison to the medical unit in Gldani Prison in Tbilisi on 8 November as ‘torture and inhumane treatment’.
Saakashvili alleged that prison authorities arranged for prison guards to assault and curse at him as he resisted the transfer, while inmates continuously shouted and cursed at him.
The ex-president is already serving six years in prison after being convicted in absentia of ordering an attack on government critic Valeri Gelashvili in 2005, and illegally promising a pardon to law enforcement officers implicated in the 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani. During his speech, the former Georgian President denied he was guilty of either charge.
As Saakashvili was brought to the court, supporters of the former president gathered outside.
Several altercations broke out in the first hours of the demonstration. Police had cordoned off the yard in front of the courthouse and several times used force, including pepper spray, to clear the immediate area near the gates of the yard.
Three protesters separately confirmed to OC Media that police did not warn them before deploying pepper spray.
Niko Kokaia, a camera operator for the TV channel Kavkasia, briefly lost consciousness during the altercations after he was reportedly pepper-sprayed by police.
Fifteen people were detained after a group of protestors attempted to block traffic near the court, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Gigi Ugulava, Saakashvili’s long-time ally and former mayor of Tbilisi, and Besik Tamliani, who refused to get off from the top of an empty security booth near the gates of the court, were among the detainees.