Georgian authorities have said jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili will have to serve his six-year sentence in full and have warned that he risks further charges if he “does not behave”.
“No one on the planet can convince us to release Saakashvili,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said in a televised address on Sunday evening.
Saakashvili, founder of Georgia’s main opposition force and president in 2004-2013, was found guilty in absentia of abuse of power and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.
When the flamboyant pro-Western reformer secretly returned from exile ahead of Saturday’s municipal elections, he was quickly arrested and sent to jail.
Saakashvili, 53, was stripped of his Georgian passport after acquiring Ukrainian citizenship, where he headed a government reform agency.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will push for Saakashvili’s release.
“Saakashvili will serve his full sentence and then, of course, he can return to Ukraine,” Garibashvili said, adding that “he had better behave or we will bring new charges against him and others will join him (in prison ) “.
The Georgian Prime Minister said the country’s authorities were faced with a choice: “Saakashvili had to quit politics or we had to stop him”.
“Man does not leave politics, does not ask for forgiveness and does not ask for forgiveness,” Garibashvili added.
Saakashvili denied any wrongdoing and denounced his conviction as politically motivated. He went on a hunger strike after his arrest.
Georgian President Salomé Zurabishvili, who is Saakashvili’s longtime enemy, said she “would never forgive him”.
Saakashvili’s detention ahead of the municipal elections further exacerbated a protracted political crisis that engulfed Georgia after opposition parties denounced widespread fraud in last year’s parliamentary elections, which ruling Georgian Dream party claimed. narrowly won.
Georgian Dream led Saturday’s polls with 46.7% of the vote, while all opposition parties collected a total of 53.3%.
The opposition denounced electoral fraud and observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the vote was “marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure. on candidates and voters ”.
Critics accused Georgian Dream of using criminal prosecution to punish political opponents and journalists.