Georgian ex-president Saakashvili's health deteriorating, allies say
Mikheil Saakashvili, who sought to move Georgia closer to the West, was imprisoned in late 2021
Allies of Mikheil Saakashvili, the jailed former president of Georgia, said on Tuesday authorities were refusing to move him to an intensive care unit despite his condition being "life-threatening" and doctors saying he needs urgent treatment.
Saakashvili, who led the former Soviet republic as a pro-Western reformer from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.
His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes.
Saakashvili is being treated in a Tbilisi clinic, but lawyers have sought to have his sentence suspended so he can be transferred abroad.
Saakashvili, 55, had been due to be transferred to an intensive care unit on Tuesday, a family spokesperson and political ally Giorgi Chaladze told Reuters — but the transfer was blocked at the last minute.
Chaladze was previously quoted by Georgian TV as telling reporters Saakashvili had already been transferred to the ICU.
"He is in a life-threatening situation, he needs intensive critical care. His immune system is failing. Blood tests done yesterday show he has zero immunity. Even a person who sneezes near him can make him sick," Chaladze said in a telephone interview.
'Show mercy': Zelenskyy to Georgia
During a visit to see Saakashvili on Tuesday, Chaladze said he was told by medical staff they were preparing a space in the ICU for him — a room 30 metres from where he is currently being held.
Zurab Chkhaidze, the head of the Vivamedi clinic where Saakashvili is being treated, denied the ex-leader was in critical condition, saying his "vital signs" were stable and he had tested negative for COVID-19.
The European Union has called reports about Saakashvili's health "worrying" and called on the government to provide medical care.
But critics, including those in the ruling Georgian Dream party, say he abused his power and lost popular support. He was convicted in absentia in 2018 and then sent to prison in October 2021 after he returned to Georgia from Ukraine, where he had been advising President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on reforms.
Zelenskyy last month also drew attention to his plight, calling on Georgian authorities to "show mercy."
"What is happening to Mikheil now is cruelty," the Ukraine leader said. "It does not become Georgia. It must be stopped."
The main opposition party in Georgia, the United National Movement, last month filed a court case calling for the imprisoned ex-president to be released for medical examination overseas because of concerns that he is suffering from poisoning.
Saakashvili has suffered weight loss, musculoskeletal pains and muscle atrophy "which may be the result of of an undiagnosed infectious process and/or possible intoxication," the UNM said in its statement."
The party said toxicological examination showed him with elevated levels of barium, bismuth and mercury. The statement said the conclusions were based on examination by Georgian and foreign experts conducted through the Empathy Center, a Georgian anti-torture NGO.
The U.S. State Department called on Georgia to treat Saakashvili "fairly and with dignity" not long after his arrest.
With files from The Associated Press