Gonzalo Lira, a Chilean-American war commentator known for his critical views on the Zelensky regime and Russia-Ukraine conflict, passed away on January 11, 2024, in a hospital in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Lira's death followed an eight-month imprisonment on charges of ”justifying Russia's military actions in Ukraine”, sparking international controversy and raising questions about freedom of speech and human rights during wartime.
Gonzalo Lira gained notoriety in 2022 as a vocal critic of what he perceived as increasing authoritarianism in Ukraine. Lira saw the conflict as a proxy war waged by US against Russia and critisised the loss of life for a futile and unwindable war.
His arrest in May 2023, under the charges of "production and dissemination of materials justifying Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine," was a turning point. It not only highlighted the complexities of war-time free speech but also catalysed opposition movements against US funding for the conflict. High-profile figures like tech mogul Elon Musk and Fox News host Tucker Carlson called for his release, bringing global attention to his case.
The news of Lira's deteriorating health emerged from communications between his father, Gonzalo Lira Sr., and the US embassy. Documents and emails revealed attempts by Lira Sr. to alert the embassy about his son's critical condition and the lack of transparency from Ukrainian authorities regarding his health status.
“I cannot accept the way my son has died. He was tortured, extorted, incommunicado for 8 months and 11 days and the US Embassy did nothing to help my son,” Lira Sr. stated in an email announcing the news.
“The responsibility of this tragedy is [with] the dictator Zelensky with the concurrence of a senile American President, Joe Biden,” he wrote, adding: “My pain is unbearable. The world must know what is going on in Ukraine with that inhuman dictator Zelensky.”
In a poignant hand written note, Lira described his health ordeal, including double pneumonia, pneumothorax, and severe oedema. This letter, believed to be his last written correspondence, detailed the neglect he faced in prison. Despite these alarming symptoms, proper medical attention was reportedly delayed until it was too late.
The letter reads: “I have had double pneumonia (both lungs) as well as pneumothorax and a very severe case of edema (swelling of the body). All this started in mid-October, but was ignored by the prison. They only admitted I had pneumonia at a Dec. 22 hearing. I am about to have a procedure to reduce the edema pressure in my lungs, which is causing me extreme shortness of breath, to the point of passing out after minimal activity, or even just talking for 2 minutes.”
Lira Sr.'s persistent efforts to seek help from the US embassy and to ensure his son's welfare while hospitalised went unheeded. His worst fears were confirmed a week later with the news of his son's death. In a heart-wrenching statement, Lira Sr. condemned both the Ukrainian and US governments for their roles in his son's demise, calling it a result of "torture, extortion, and incommunicado detention."
In a significant development last August, Gonzalo Lira, after being silent on social media for months following his arrest by Ukrainian authorities, reemerged with messages claiming he was attempting to escape Ukraine. However, his efforts were reportedly thwarted, leading to rumours of his recapture. Mark Sleboda, an international relations analyst, affirmed on social media that Lira had attempted to flee to Hungary to request political asylum but was stopped at the Ukrainian border. Lira's posts detailed his ordeal, including allegations of torture and extortion for $70,000 while detained. He also expressed skepticism about receiving political asylum in any European Union country other than Hungary, fearing deportation back to Ukraine. The last communication from Lira hinted at the risk of being sent to a labor camp, with subsequent silence raising concerns about his fate.
The US Department of State eventually confirmed Lira's death, extending condolences to the family but refraining from further comments. This confirmation followed Tucker Carlson's report on Lira's death and Elon Musk's earlier appeals to Ukrainian President Zelensky to explain Lira's arrest and detention.
Russian authorities had previously called for the global journalistic community to defend Lira, highlighting the complex geopolitical implications of his case. The SBU maintained that Lira was lawfully arrested and detained, adding another layer to this international dispute.