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Okruashvili on hunger strike over election

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Tuesday, January 15

Former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili is on hunger strike in a Paris jail cell in protest of the ‘”falsification” of the presidential election, lawyer Eka Beselia told television station Rustavi 2 on January 13.

He is currently in custody awaiting a decision on extradition to Georgia, where he faces corruption charges stemming from his time in office.

“[Okruashvili] himself shares the position of those people who are protesting after the falsified election,” Beselia said, adding that he plans to address the Georgian people about the recent election and demand a runoff.

On January 13, at least 10 000 opposition supporters rallied in Tbilisi to protest the reelection of Mikheil Saakashvili in what they say was a rigged vote.

Beselia, who flew to Paris on January 11, said her client is in high spirits and awaiting the outcome of current events in Georgia. Okruashvili’s legal team was expected to submit his formal application for political asylum yesterday, and appeal for his release from custody.

The former minister was arrested in Berlin at the end of November on the request of the Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office and transferred to France on January 9, in accordance with the Dublin Convention which specifies that the state which issued the visa to an asylum seeker must review the asylum application.

He was first arrested in Georgia on September 27—two days after he launched a political opposition party—and charged with corruption stemming from his time as defense minister, before being released on bail.

His arrest sparked street protests in Tbilisi, and was instrumental in galvanizing the political opposition into holding the anti-government demonstrations in early November.

Okruashvili flew to Germany on November 1, the day before a planned mass anti-government rally. The government claimed he was allowed to leave the country to seek medical treatment; he maintains he was coerced into leaving by authorities.

In an interview printed on January 4 in the German news magazine Spiegel, Okruashvili claimed that extradition to Georgia would constitute a “death sentence” for him.

Gia Tortladze, acting chair of Okruashvili’s Movement for a United Georgia party, told the Messenger that the former defense minister is not over-exaggerating the danger facing him in Georgia.

“When you have a regime like we have now, if Okruashvili is extradited, his life would be under threat,” Tortladze said.

He added that the party remains fully involved in the nine-party opposition coalition and will consider developing its own program in the future.

“Okruashvili will definitely stay as our face and leader, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

Christina Tashkevich contributed to this article.