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10 Dec, 2023 14:20

Musk calls out Biden and Zelensky over US journalist jailed by Ukraine

It’s a “serious problem” if Gonzalo Lira has been jailed simply for criticizing the Kiev government, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO said
Musk calls out Biden and Zelensky over US journalist jailed by Ukraine

Elon Musk has reached out to both US President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Vladimir Zelensky, regarding the status of Gonzalo Lira, a US-Chilean journalist and critic of the Kiev government. Lira has been detained in Ukraine since the summer, prompting Musk’s engagement on the matter.

On Saturday, US political commentator Tucker Carlson published an interview on X (formerly Twitter) with Lira’s father, who said that his son is currently awaiting trial in Ukraine “because he was exercising his right of freedom of speech.”

According to Gonzalo Lira Senior, the staff of the local US embassy “haven’t done a thing” for the detained American passport holder, who is being defended by a court-appointed Ukrainian lawyer with no knowledge of the English language.

In his comment on the interview, Musk wondered how it was possible that “an American citizen is in prison in Ukraine after we sent over a $100 billion” to support Kiev amid its conflict with Russia.

“Is there more to this story than simply criticizing Zelensky? If that’s all it is, then we have serious problem here,” the SpaceX and Tesla CEO posted on X.

He added an appeal to the Ukrainian president, asking him to “please educate the American people about this matter.” 

Carlson responded to the message by saying that the “crime” committed by Lira, who is an author of several novels and a filmmaker with Hollywood experience, was “saying unapproved things.”

On Sunday, Musk also addressed the issue on his own account, writing, “What is the status of this American journalist, Joe Biden?”

The post included a link to Lira’s last post on X before his third arrest by Ukrainian authorities in early August. In his message, the journalist said that he was about to cross from Ukraine into Hungary in search of political asylum. “Either I’ll cross the border and make it to safety, or I’ll be disappeared by the Kiev regime,” he warned his followers.

When addressed on the issue by the Strana.ua news outlet, a spokesman for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed that Lira had been arrested on the border with Hungary. The US journalist is currently in custody in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov, with a court scheduled to consider his case on December 12 and 21, he added.

According to the spokesman, Lira violated Ukrainian law as he “systematically justified” Russia’s actions in Ukraine and “disseminated pro-Russian views on his social media accounts.” In his videos he “also claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were shelling their own territory, while a neo-Nazi regime reigned in Ukraine,” the spokesman stated.

Lira, who had been living in Kharkov since the mid-2010s, was actively covering Russia’s military operation in the country from its very start in February 2022. He said that it was a tragedy for Ukraine and its people, whom he loved, but stressed that the conflict had been provoked by the Zelensky government and its Western backers. Among other things, the journalist argued that Ukraine had no chance of winning against Russia and predicted the failure of the sanctions against Moscow.

He also decried attempts by Western media to portray Ukraine as a democracy, speaking about corruption in the government and publishing a list of Zelensky’s opponents who, he claimed, had been “disappeared” by the Kiev authorities.

Lira was first arrested by the SBU in April 2022 but released without charges a week later as the story made international headlines.

The 55-year-old continued his reporting and, in May, was again taken into custody and accused of “producing and distributing materials justifying the armed aggression” by Russia against Ukraine.

On August 1, the journalist briefly reemerged on social media, posting several videos in which he said that he had been released on bail and was trying to flee to neighboring Hungary in order to avoid a lengthy prison term. He hasn’t been heard from since then.