Georgia’s detained ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili risks death due to critical weight loss behind bars, his doctor and lawyer said Friday as international concerns grow over his alleged mistreatment.

The 55-year-old pro-Western reformer has been in hospital since last year after refusing food for 50 days to protest his detention, which rights groups say is politically motivated.

“Saakashvili’s weight dropped to 68 kilograms (150 pounds) from 115 kilograms” since he was jailed in October 2021, his lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP.

“This is a life-threatening weight loss.”

Doctor Mariam Jishkariani, who has examined him in person, told AFP that “Saakashvili has cachexia,” muscle loss associated with increased mortality.

“In the absence of a proper diagnostics of his underlying condition and of an adequate medical care he risks death.”

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Justice Minister Rati Bregadze insisted Saakashvili is being provided adequate care and that his rights are being protected.

“The man is inflicting self-harm” by refusing to eat properly, he claimed, accusing the former leader of having “a simple purpose to achieve liberation.”

- ‘Cynical lie’ -

Sadzaglishvili slammed what he called the minister’s “cynical lie.”

“Saakashvili is not refusing food, he can’t eat,” the lawyer said.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Georgia of “slowly killing” Saakashvili, who served as Georgian president from 2004 to 2013.

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“I urge the world to help save Mikheil’s life and prevent his execution,” he tweeted.

Saakashvili was stripped of his Georgian passport after acquiring Ukrainian nationality in 2018 while living in exile.

Zelensky, who in 2020 appointed Saakashvili to lead a Ukrainian government agency to steer reforms, is demanding his transfer to clinic in either Ukraine or the West.

“Torturing an opposition leader to death is unacceptable for a country that wants to join the European Union,” tweeted Moldovan President Maia Sandu late Thursday.

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Saakashvili -- who founded the country’s main opposition force -- was convicted in absentia for abuse of office and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.

He was arrested in 2021, days after secretly returning from exile.

The Council of Europe rights watchdog has called for his release and in 2021, Amnesty International branded his treatment “apparent political revenge.”

 

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