Chilean-American YouTuber and political commentator Gonzalo Lira has been in Ukrainian prison since May 2023. He was arrested on the charges of promoting Russian propaganda. He was granted bail in July, during which time he tried to flee to Hungary for political asylum—however, he was apprehended at the border and is now back in custody.
His plight is rarely covered by the American media (when it is, he is usually painted in a negative light). Now, however, famed American political pundit Tucker Carlson decided to raise some awareness on the issue. In a video posted to the social media platform X on 9 December, Carlson had this to say about Lira:
‘So what happened to Gonzalo Lira? Well, for posting that video and others like it, he was arrested by the government of Ukraine that we pay for, the supposed democracy that we support for moral reasons, against the autocracy of Russia…Gonzalo Lira remains in prison today, a political prisoner in a country that we were told was free, a country whose government we’re still paying for.
The Biden State Department is uninterested in the fate of this American citizen. In fact, of course, they support his imprisonment, and no one in the national media seems interested in his fate whatsoever.’
He then brought Gonzalo Lira’s father on the show, who joined via satellite from Chile. Lira Sr shared that his son is still awaiting trial seven months after his arrest, and his court-appointed defence attorney meant to represent him does not even speak English, making collaboration with his client extremely difficult. In addition, he claims the US Embassy in Ukraine has completely given up on Lira, they are not even assisting in letting his father or sister communicate with him. Lira’s father went on to point out that his son’s arrest happened just four days after he uploaded a video heavily criticizing US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris; and even stated that the inaction on the US government’s part is proof that they approve of and complicit in Lira’s incarceration in his opinion.
If Carlson was not enough, an even bigger figure, Elon Musk himself jumped into the conversation in pursuit of helping Lira. Musk has been aiding the Ukrainian war effort by letting them use his Starlink satellite system for free for stable internet in wartime—so he, just like the US government, supposedly has plenty of leverage on the Ukrainian state.
In a comment on his own social media platform X (also known as Twitter), he responded to Tucker Carlson’s video saying ‘An American citizen is in prison in Ukraine after we sent over a $100 billion? Is there more to this story than simply criticizing Zelensky? If that’s all it is, then we have serious [sic!] problem here’. He then followed it by tagging President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine in the thread.
This prompted the Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) to respond. In a statement made to the news site The New Voice of Ukraine, they stressed that Lira’s arrest and his subsequent treatment in custody was ‘in accordance with Ukrainian law’. They also claim they served him a ‘notice of suspicion’ prior to his arrest.
We have covered Gonzalo Lira’s ordeal on our site from early August, when he tried to flee to Hungary while on bail.
As the American right-wing news site Breitbart pointed out, according to the English-language translation of his indictment posted online by Lira himself, the Ukrainian state does not even allege that he was coordinating with Russian state actors while making his videos covering the war. This makes it a pure case of prosecuting someone for opinions the local government finds objectionable, a very clear violation of an American citizen’s free speech rights.