/I am a political prisoner in Georgia and I am dying – POLITICO

I am a political prisoner in Georgia and I am dying – POLITICO

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Mikheil Saakashvili served as the President of the Republic of Georgia from 2004 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2013.

Since February marked the one-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s maniacal and unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine, Georgia and other countries in the region have continued to creep toward the Kremlin. Georgia’s democratic regression came to the fore again with the publication of the United States Department of State Human Rights Reportwhile the global threat to democracy was on display during a meeting between Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping last month.

Yet at the same time, the people of Georgia confirmed their commitment to democracy and the fight against that tyranny by protesting in the streets in front of the Parliament building in the center of Tbilisi.

The people of Georgia, who overwhelmingly want to join the European Union and NATO, were protesting a recently enacted “foreign agents” law, which would require any organization that receives more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register, or You will face criminal charges and substantial fines. Analogous to a current Russian lawthe bill was intended to restrict the work of independent journalists and democratic institutions.

All of this happened just a few miles from the prison cell where I fight to stay alive and where I, too, continue to defend democracy against Putin and his allies. I am a political prisoner in Georgia, the country I led as president from 2004 to 2013 and worked hard to reorient it towards democracy and the West.

After only a few months in power, I was praised by leaders in Europe and the US for standing up for democracy and free markets, and ending a period of de facto control over my country by crime syndicates. organized. In 2005, I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain. for “having won popular support for the universal values ​​of democracy, individual liberty, and civil rights.”

Feeling threatened by the success of Georgia’s Western-oriented reformsIn August 2008, Putin ordered the invasion of Georgia, resulting in a brief war. Instead of running away, I, like my friend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was determined to fight and stand up to Putin’s aggression. After the war, Russia controlled more than 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, which it still holds today—the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia—but I survived and continued at the front until resign after my second term.

I then presided over the first peaceful transfer of power brought about by democratic elections in the region.

At that time, and for several years after the 2008 war, I tried to warn my Western colleagues about Putin’s imperialist ambitions and the threat he posed. But while the West expressed much-needed support and solidarity with our cause, few seemed to take seriously the threat of Putin’s militarism. Apparently, the The ridiculous narrative of the Kremlin That my government had somehow provoked the war had cast enough doubt for many in the West to be convinced that Putin had no broader revanchist goals.

Of course, the war in the Ukraine has exposed Putin’s true imperialist ambitions to restore the Soviet empire by annexing their formerly held territories, but I get no satisfaction from proving myself right. Because the man who once threatened to “hang me by the balls” is, without a doubt, ultimately responsible for my current situation.

Georgia Dream, the political party that came to power after I stepped down, was established and is still run, behind the scenes, by billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, a man who made his fortune in the 1990s in Moscow and is known to have close ties. with Putin.

And despite the overwhelming support of the Georgian people for EU membership (an estimated 80 percent support membership), the Georgian Dream government shows growing solidarity with Russia. While there is, of course, legitimate apprehension about being openly hostile to the Kremlin given the danger Georgia faces, the vast majority of Georgians support the Ukrainian cause, which the government is trying to suppress.

The war in Ukraine has shed light on Putin’s true imperialist ambitions to restore the Soviet empire | Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

When I returned to Georgia in October 2021, after eight years in exile, to support free and fair parliamentary elections, I was a healthy and energetic 54-year-old man. The Georgian authorities then immediately arrested me and I have been jailed ever since on rumors and politically motivated charges of “abuse of power”, which only the Kremlin and the current Georgian government consider legitimate.

And in detention, my health has deteriorated precipitously; now i’m dying

I have been systematically tortured, physically and psychologically, and there is currently evidence of heavy metal poisoning in my body. I now suffer from a bewildering array of over 20 serious illnesses, all of which developed during lockdown.

In light of all this, in mid-February the European Parliament issued a resolution calling for my release and, noting Georgia’s democratic setback, passed non-binding resolutions calling for sanctions against Ivanishvili. Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream government continues to mock Western leadersgleefully overseeing the rapid departure of a European future for Georgia, while peaceful civilians are beaten and tear gassed for supporting democratic ideals.

Despite Georgia’s deteriorating relations with the US, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Dick Durbin recently visited Tbilisi to meet with government officials. And while the senators’ request to visit me in prison was unsurprisingly turned down, I appreciate your interest in my health and well-being. I also commend current leaders in Congress, such as Reps. Joe Wilson and Steve Cohen and Sens. Roger Wicker and Ben Cardin, for their efforts against the attacks on Georgia’s strategic partnerships and the jailing of political opponents, as well as their opposition to to Georgia’s foreign agent law. — a rebuke to the EU and NATO aspirations of the Georgian people — and the country’s rapid democratic decline.

Without help from Congress and the Biden administration, along with the EU and UK parliaments, the current government will continue to turn a blind eye not only to democracy but also to the rule of law, and the fundamental pillars of human rights will continue to erode in Georgia. .

It is also becoming increasingly apparent that I will die soon if I do not receive proper medical care outside of the country.

I continue to call on the US and the international community to do everything possible to save my life by applying diplomatic pressure on the Georgian government and imposing economic sanctions against Ivanishvili and his associates.

My death may cause political chaos in Georgia, but my martyrdom will certainly be seen as a victory for Putin, a powerful symbol for all leaders in this region, and possibly the world, who fail to stand up to Russian imperialism.

However, if the US Congress and the Biden administration can work with the EU to secure my release through sanctions, economic embargoes, funding cuts and visa restrictions, it will not just be another blow to Putin, it will also send a strong signal that the United States and Europe remain committed to the ideals of democracy, decency, and justice.

ideals that President Biden once told me that I could trust in.

*This article was received from Mikheil Saakashvili’s US legal counsel, Massimo F. ​​D’Angelo.