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An American ‘Putin propagandist’ was jailed in Ukraine. Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk want him freed.

Pro-Russian commentator remains in prison after attempting to flee Ukraine while on bail

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 12 December 2023 01:57 GMT
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YouTuber Gonzalo Lira is pictured during his attempt to cross the border into Hungary
YouTuber Gonzalo Lira is pictured during his attempt to cross the border into Hungary (YouTube: Gonzalo Lira)

Gonzalo Lira may just become the far right’s Brittney Griner.

The YouTuber and contributor to the far-right Zero Hedge finance and news blog remains imprisoned in Ukraine after his arrest earlier this year on charges of disseminating pro-Russian propaganda during wartime. Fans of Lira describe him as a journalist, while his critics describe him as an apologist for Vladimir Putin and accuse him of spreading conspiracy theories about shadowy American biolabs supposedly hidden in the country (among other topics). In videos, he has praised the supposed tactical brilliance of the Russian military offensive, denied massacres of civilians committed by Russian forces and doxxed western journalists covering the war from the ground in Ukraine.

His arrest in July was followed by a period of several weeks’ imprisonment, after which he resurfaced in a video posted to his channel on 31 July.

In that video, he describes himself as being “out on bail”; the title of the three-part video series is “I’m about to cross the border”. Lira was presumably attempting to skip the country while out on bail — a crime in the US or anywhere else — and had published video evidence of his plans.

A former filmmaker who also wrote for Business Insider, Lira was subsequently re-arrested and returned to Ukrainian custody; he has not spoken publicly since. Russian media sources including RT have described him as “missing” and others have alleged that he is being tortured, though without evidence. A growing number of figures on the American far right have begun raising the alarms over his imprisonment.

Lira’s situation presents a unique one for the Biden administration; he is awaiting trial in the justice system of a close US ally that the US government has been loathe to publicly condemn for any reason, for an “offence” which in the US would not be considered a crime due to First Amendment protections for speech and free debate.

For the latter reason, far right figures like Tucker Carlson and Twitter/X owner Elon Musk have called for the Biden administration to pressure Ukraine’s government for Lira’s release. His reputation as a pro-Russian gadfly has led some supporters of Ukraine, in response, to defend the legality of his imprisonment through the platform’s Community Notes system as well as their own posts.

The White House and State Department have not publicly addressed Lira’s imprisonment.

Calls for his release by Carlson come after the former Fox News star, who was fired for his endorsement of lies about the 2020 election that he admitted in private were false, previously criticised President Joe Biden for securing the release of an American WNBA star, Brittney Griner, from imprisonment in Russia. On his show at the time, Carlson attacked Biden administration officials for supposedly viewing Ms Griner’s race and sexual orientation as “qualifications” to take into account for her release.

Carlson now hosts a show on Twitter, where he most recently embraced the return of Sandy Hook conspiracist Alex Jones to the site.

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