icon bookmark-bicon bookmarkicon cameraicon checkicon chevron downicon chevron lefticon chevron righticon chevron upicon closeicon v-compressicon downloadicon editicon v-expandicon fbicon fileicon filtericon flag ruicon full chevron downicon full chevron lefticon full chevron righticon full chevron upicon gpicon insicon mailicon moveicon-musicicon mutedicon nomutedicon okicon v-pauseicon v-playicon searchicon shareicon sign inicon sign upicon stepbackicon stepforicon swipe downicon tagicon tagsicon tgicon trashicon twicon vkicon yticon wticon fm
10 Dec, 2023 19:53

Who was the ‘tortured’ US journalist who died in Ukrainian captivity?

A critic of President Zelensky’s government, Gonzalo Lira spent months in a Kharkov jail
Who was the ‘tortured’ US journalist who died in Ukrainian captivity?

Journalist and filmmaker Gonzalo Lira, a national of the US and Chile, has died while in a jail in Ukraine. Lira's family reported the death on January 12, which was then confirmed by the US Department of State.

Lira had been in pre-trial detention since May 2023, on accusations of justifying Moscow’s military operation against Kiev. According to a handwritten note Lira’s sister received on January 4, provided to the Grayzone by her father, Lira had severe health problems caused by pneumonia and a collapsed lung, which began in mid-October. Ukrainian prison authorities only acknowledged the issue on December 22, and stated he would undergo surgery.

The journalist’s father, Gonzalo Lira Sr., said that his son had been “tortured,” while the US Embassy in Kiev “did nothing” to help him.

Who was Gonzalo Lira?

Lira was a journalist, blogger, writer, and filmmaker with experience working in Hollywood. He authored several novels in English and Spanish, including the 2002 spy thriller ‘Acrobat.’ The 55-year-old was also known online as ‘Coach Red Pill,’ offering lifestyle advice to a male audience.

He reportedly moved to Ukraine in 2010 and married a local woman. The blogger lived in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, located in the east, not far from its border with Russia.

After Russia and Ukraine’s long-simmering disputes turned to military confrontation in February 2022, Lira began actively covering the fighting on social media. He said that he loved Ukraine and its people and that the whole thing was a tragedy, but insisted that the conflict had been provoked by the Zelensky government and its Western backers. The blogger said that Ukraine had no chance of winning against Russia and predicted failure.

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

Lira’s three arrests

Lira’s disappearance in April 2022 made international headlines, with some accounts on social media claiming that he could’ve been abducted and murdered by the members of the notorious neo-Nazi unit ‘Kraken’ over his criticism of the Ukrainian authorities.

However, he reemerged on social media a week later, saying that he had been detained by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU). According to the journalist, he was released without charge but that access to his accounts was blocked and he was told not to leave Kharkov.

The journalist was arrested once again in May 2023, ultimately being released from a pre-trial detention center house arrest after posting bail. On this occasion he claimed he had been subjected to extortion and physical abuse in custody.

He was arrested again in July, with Ukrainian law enforcement stating he had attempted to leave the country for Hungary on a motorbike.

Washington’s reaction to the arrest

The US has remained largely silent on the Lira affair, with the journalist claiming he had been receiving care while in jail only from the Chilean mission, with the US Embassy calling him “three times, but gave me nothing but ‘support’ – empty bromides.” Lira also alleged he might end up extradited back to Ukraine should he ever be able to leave the country, specifically because US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland “hates my guts, or so I’m told.”

Asked about Lira’s fate back in August, US Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller refused to provide any meaningful answer on the matter, citing “privacy” reasons.

“The safety and security of every American overseas is our first priority. Because of privacy rules we’re unable in a lot of cases to talk about specific cases, but obviously the safety and security of Americans is our top priority,” Miller told reporters at the time.

What his father says

The father of jailed journalist Gonzalo Lira Sr. has squarely blamed the situation on the US administration and its ties to Kiev. The alleged persecution of his son stems from the fact that the latter had bravely reported on about a dozen Zelensky “opponents” who had “disappeared,” he claims.

“This that is happening to my son, he’s a victim of this Biden government and his relation with that puppet Zelensky,” Lira Sr. said in an interview with US journalist Tucker Carlson.

The link between the US administration and the blogger’s hardships might be even deeper, his father suggested, given that his second arrest in Ukraine came mere days “after condemning Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

“Why was he not detained earlier? When he was let go the previous year, he continued the same criticism against the war,” Lira Sr. added.

The interview drew concerns from none other than Elon Musk, the SpaceX, Tesla and X CEO. Musk demanded answers on the status of Lira from US President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky, and wondered how it was possible that an American citizen is in prison in Ukraine after the US “sent over a $100 billion” to support Kiev in the conflict with Moscow. It would be a “serious problem” if it turned out that the journalist was being persecuted for “simply criticizing Zelensky,” Musk added in December.

What is Ukraine saying

Kiev insists it has rightfully targeted Lira over his activities, with the SBU repeatedly stating the journalist has been accused of “producing and distributing materials justifying the armed aggression,” as well as disseminating “fakes” about the country’s armed forces. The first hearing in his trial had been scheduled for December 12.