Saakashvili’s Grand Return to Georgia May Have Backfired

Saakashvili’s Grand Return to Georgia May Have Backfired
Several thousand supporters of the party of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gather to demand his release from prison due to ill health, in Tbilisi, Russia, Oct. 14, 2021 (AP photo by Shakh Aivazov).

TBILISI—On a chilly mid-November evening in Tbilisi, the scene outside of Georgia’s Parliament looked like a bit like rock concert: Huge speakers stood tall on either side of a broad stage; camera crews were lined up and ready to shoot; and spotlights glared out over the thousands of people massing on Rustaveli Avenue. The chants, though, were not for a rock star, but for “Misha”—that is, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who despite living in exile for eight years, was evidently still able to draw a crowd.

Saakashvili had returned to Georgia on Oct. 1 and was immediately detained by Georgian authorities to serve out a sentence for a 2018 conviction for abuse of power in office. The former president quickly launched a hunger strike to protest his detention, which he called “illegal.”

The crowds gathered in front of Parliament that day were clamoring for Saakashvili to be transferred from a prison hospital to a civilian one. The ex-president was entering the seventh week of his strike, and his health was failing. His supporters feared he wasn’t getting adequate care in the prison’s facilities—but they were ignored. Days later, Saakashvili lost consciousness during a meeting with his lawyer, and his doctors reported that he was in critical condition.

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