Georgian authorities have said jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili will have to serve out his six-year sentence in full and warned he risked fresh charges if he did not “behave.”
“No one on the planet can convince us to release Saakashvili,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said in televised remarks late Sunday.
Saakashvili, the founder of Georgia’s main opposition force and president in 2004-2013, was convicted in absentia on abuse of office charges and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.
When the flamboyant pro-Western reformer secretly returned from exile ahead of Saturday’s municipal election, he was quickly detained and sent to prison.
Saakashvili, 53, was stripped of his Georgian passport after he acquired the citizenship of Ukraine, where he headed a government agency steering reforms.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will press for Saakashvili’s release.
“Saakashvili will serve out his sentence in full and then, of course, he can return to Ukraine,” Garibashvili said, adding that “he better behave or we will bring against him fresh charges and others will join him (in prison).”
The Georgian prime minister said the country’s authorities faced a choice: “Saakashvili had to leave politics or we had to detain him.”
“The man is not quitting politics, is not asking for forgiveness, and is not applying for a pardon,” Garibashvili added.
Saakashvili has denied wrongdoing and denounced his sentence as politically motivated. He went on hunger strike after his arrest.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who is Saakashvili’s longtime foe, has said she “will never pardon” him.
Saakashvili’s detention ahead of municipal elections further deepened a protracted political crisis that engulfed Georgia after opposition parties decried widespread fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections, which the ruling Georgian Dream party narrowly won.
Georgian Dream led Saturday’s polls with 46.7 per cent of the vote, while all the opposition parties garnered a total of 53.3 per cent.
The opposition decried electoral fraud and observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote was “marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters.”
Critics have accused Georgian Dream of using criminal prosecutions to punish political opponents and journalists.