Jailed Georgian ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to go on hunger strike again after a court hearing into his jail term was postponed.
Saakashvili, 54, has been in a Georgian jail for more than a year, convicted of abuse of power while in office.
He has not been seen in public since April, and has reportedly suffered significant weight loss and is unable to move without assistance.
Wednesday’s hearing was cancelled because no video link was set up.
The court in Tbilisi had been due to consider whether to suspend his sentence or release him on humanitarian grounds for medical treatment abroad. Saakashvili’s lawyer told the BBC the government was afraid to reveal the real state he was now in.
Saakashvili hopes the international community will press Georgia to release him. “SOS. I am dying, I have very little time left,” he wrote earlier in a hand-written note to the French president.
He has already staged two hunger strikes against his imprisonment. He was transferred to the private Vivamedi Clinic in Tbilisi in May 2022 and has been confined to a room there.
In a statement on Wednesday he said his right to trial had been refused, so he was forced to respond.
“I am aware of all the risks, considering my health condition, but I will be on hunger strike until I get guarantees that I will be involved in my process, at least with a video link.”
Empathy, an organisation supporting victims of torture in Georgia, alleged on 1 December that he had been diagnosed with illnesses “incompatible with imprisonment” and that Georgian and foreign medical experts had found evidence of heavy-metal poisoning.
Hair samples revealed high levels of mercury.
But the Georgian government denies Saakashvili’s life is in danger.
“We will not allow anyone, no matter who they are, to put themselves above the law,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told local media on 7 December.
“I heard a lot that Saakashvilli is depressed and does not like the environment. Which prisoner likes the prison environment?” he said.
The former president has inflamed tensions in Georgia between his supporters and those who want him punished for crimes committed in office.
Eduard Saakashvili: It is terrible to see my father so ill
Mikheil Saakashvilli rose to power after Georgia’s so-called Rose Revolution in 2003 and was credited with introducing major reforms and helping to steer the country towards a more Western system of democracy. But in his final years in office, he was accused of turning increasingly authoritarian.
He led the country until his party’s defeat in elections in 2012, then later left Georgia to avoid facing prosecution.
Saakashvili was tried in absentia and sentenced to six years in 2018 for abuses of power. There are additional criminal cases against the former president, including illegally crossing the state border last September, after he smuggled himself back into Georgia.
But his supporters believe his prosecution is a transparent political vendetta.
Saakashvilli had a very public falling-out with Georgia’s powerful oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia.
Mr Ivanishvili founded the governing party, Georgian Dream, and is widely believed to maintain influence in politics.
The opposition United National Movement, founded by Saakashvili, has accused the current administration of being pro-Kremlin for failing to openly criticise Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
Georgia’s government argues its approach to its northern neighbour is pragmatic and accuses the opposition of seeking to entangle Georgia in Russia’s war.
Saakashvili describes himself as a prisoner of President Vladimir Putin.
“All my life I fought for freedom and reforms in Georgia and Ukraine against Russia’s imperialist policy. Putin considers me one of his main enemies,” Saakashvili wrote in his note to the French president.
The Russian leader infamously threatened to hang Saakashvili “by his balls” during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war over the Georgian region of South Ossetia, which is now occupied by Russia.
Eduard Saakashvili warned journalists at the European Parliament this week that his father’s health was in decline and that he was growing weaker: “A person who used to be energetic, ambitious, charismatic, restless is slowly fading away.
“Add that to the medical reports and we see a dire picture… from mistreatment and inadequate care… We cannot allow my father Mikheil Saakashvili to die in prison.”
He called on the Georgian government to allow his father to receive treatment abroad.
Earlier, the US ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan, said the government of Georgia was responsible for meeting Saakashvili’s medical needs and ensuring his rights.
When asked about his responsibility for the former president’s well-being, Prime Minister Garibashvili said it was in the hands of God.
“Our lives are given to God, so I can’t really be responsible for anyone’s life,” he said.