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Bill Browder, Magnitsky Act Proponent, Turns His Attention To Mikheil Saakashvili

Financier and activist Bill Browder (file photo)
Financier and activist Bill Browder (file photo)

TBILISI -- U.S.-born financier and political activist Bill Browder has accused doctors involved in treating imprisoned former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of being "probably involved" in malpractice and taking orders from government officials.

Known for his lobbying for the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions list targeting Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 in a Moscow prison, Browder has now vowed to create a similar list of those involved in keeping Saakashvili in prison.

In a tweet, Browder promised Saakashvili that he will "do whatever I can to bring this to the attention of Western governments for Magnitsky sanctions."

Following his arrest in October 2021 after illegally crossing into Georgia, Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, has staged repeated hunger strikes in protest against his imprisonment. His health appears to have deteriorated significantly while incarcerated. He is currently serving a six-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of power, which his supporters claim are politically motivated.

International support for the 55-year-old former president has grown over the last few weeks in tandem with the visible decline of Saakashvili's condition in the military hospital facility where he is now receiving treatment.

At a court hearing on January 17, British orthopedic traumatologist James Cobb, who is working as part of an international team to examine Saakashvili, noted that the patient's neck "was stiff, he felt severe pain, and he could not bend his head to the left. There was also severe pain in the left shoulder area [and] he could not move his left arm. His left shoulder and left wrist area were very weak."

He added that Saakashvili should undergo surgery on his neck, left shoulder joint, and left hip joint. "If these operations are not carried out, it will be difficult for him to move every day, and it will become even more difficult, and he will not be able to walk and move," he added.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Browder said, "If Saakashvili dies in prison, the consequences will be disastrous for those responsible."

A screengrab from a video released by Georgia's penitentiary service, showing Mikheil Saakashvili at a medical clinic in December.
A screengrab from a video released by Georgia's penitentiary service, showing Mikheil Saakashvili at a medical clinic in December.

"Two weeks ago, photos of what [Saakashvili] looks like after being arrested and tortured were released. These were the most disturbing, horrifying photos I have seen since Sergei Magnitsky was killed by slow torture," Browder said in the interview.

"I made it very clear publicly how shocked I was, as were many other people. I tweeted this message, and then I got a response from Mr. Saakashvili, obviously through a member of his team. He was basically asking me for help, begging me for help. I felt immense sympathy for him. I don't want anything worse than what has already happened. I think he should be let out of jail," Browder said.

'This Is An Emergency'

According to Browder, he is currently waiting for evidence supplied by Saakashvili's lawyers, which would confirm the violations of Saakashvili's rights as well as naming those who have abused them.

Once the evidence has been collected, Browder says he plans to present it to governments, engaging with politicians and political bodies who have shown sympathy towards the imprisoned former president and have voiced alarm at his mistreatment.

"It's very simple," Browder says. "Documentary or other evidence proving that he was tortured, ill-treated, or treated negligently. It could be that the judge ignored his request that he needed medical attention, that the prosecutors imposed certain prison conditions on him, or the evidence could be the actions of the police officers who were somehow involved in his case.... It could also be about those who stand above all these people, to government officials if there is evidence that it was a political order. I don't want to prejudge the evidence because I haven't received it yet. What I can assess are the photos of Mikheil Saakashvili, which clearly show that he was treated badly. There are no more questions about it."

Public international alarm has quickly grown in recent weeks, with heads of state and diplomats, including Moldovan President Maia Sandu, EU Ambassador to Georgia Pawel Herczynski, and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan, expressing concern over Saakashvili's health and urging the Georgian government to ensure the protection of his rights.

After the incumbent Georgian Dream government recently publicized edited footage of the former president in his hospital room, it then accused Saakashvili of exaggerating his illness.

On December 1, 2022, Saakashvili asked the court to release him from prison or postpone his sentence due to the need for treatment abroad.

Mikheil Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2008 to 2013. (file photo)
Mikheil Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2008 to 2013. (file photo)

"The more the process drags on, the more problems it will bring to the Georgian government," says Browder. "They shouldn't be torturing a former president in a politically motivated situation. He definitely has signs of torture, signs of deteriorating health. This is the shame of Georgia, the shame of the Georgian government, and the shame of the Georgian justice system."

"This is an emergency. His condition is rapidly deteriorating," Browder adds. "It's like a person on the verge of death, so it's not something that can be put off. It should be done very quickly. I think the other cases related to his mistreatment should have been completed at the same time. This [making the list] is just one tool in the fight to save his life.

Written by Nadia Beard in Tbilisi based on reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

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