A critic of the Kiev government, Gonzalo Lira is now awaiting trial in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov
US-Chilean journalist and filmmaker Gonzalo Lira has been in pre-trial detention in Ukraine since last summer on accusations of justifying Moscow’s military operation against Kiev. The blogger’s fate has caused concerns from none other than Elon Musk, the SpaceX, Tesla and X CEO.
In his posts on X (formerly Twitter), Musk demanded answers on the status of Lira from US President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky. He wondered how it was possible that an American citizen is in prison in Ukraine after “we sent over a $100 billion” to support the country amid the conflict with Russia. The entrepreneur also stressed that it would be a “serious problem” if it turned out that the journalist was being persecuted for “simply criticizing Zelensky.”
Who is Gonzalo Lira?
Lira is a journalist, blogger, writer, and filmmaker who has experience working in Hollywood. He’s the author of 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 native woman. The blogger lives in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, located in the east of the country, 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. Lira has remained in custody ever since.
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 has 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 Snr stated on Saturday in an interview with US journalist and political commenter 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,” the reporter’s father added.
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 journalist is now awaiting trial, with the first hearing on his case set to take place on December 12.