Some journalists’ lives are worth more than others

Jan 23, 2024
Ukraine - Flag

In politics, there is often no reward, only penalty, for being right, especially when you go against the messaging of the ruling elites.

Gonzalo Lira, an American citizen, war commentator and blogger, has died in Kharkiv, Ukraine, after a prolonged period of medical neglect in prison. His misfortune was being too prescient about the war being unwinnable, the regime of Volodymyr Zelensky being increasingly dictatorial and corrupt, and that the US should have tried diplomacy rather than spearheading another futile but brutal proxy war.

Just as pundits and politicians in the West have made sure you hear about the plight of some foreign journalists but not others, so they have kept deafeningly quiet about Lira’s imprisonment and death at the hands of Ukrainian authorities. Lira is Jamal Khashoggi 2.0; another proof of President Joe Biden’s love of press freedom.

Lira died on January 11 after an eight-month imprisonment by local authorities for making “pro-Russian” statements. He was arrested last year for “production and dissemination of materials justifying Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine”.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Source / My Trip From Kiev to Kharkov Last Night. Author / Gonzalo LiHis passing was announced by his father in the United States as he criticised the US embassy and the State Department for doing nothing to help his son, even after his health started to worsen in prison.

“I cannot accept the way my son has died. He was tortured, extorted, incommunicado for eight months and 11 days and the US embassy did nothing to help my son,” Lira Snr said as he released emails, correspondence and documents related to his dealings with US authorities.

“The responsibility of this tragedy is [with] the dictator Zelensky with the concurrence of a senile American president, Joe Biden,” he wrote. “My pain is unbearable.”

In a handwritten note sent shortly before his death, Lira described his health ordeal, including double pneumonia, pneumothorax, and severe oedema, and that he was offered no treatment in jail until the last stage.

His father said persistent efforts to seek help from the US embassy went unheeded. His worst fears were confirmed a week after his son’s note with the news of his death.

Back in 2022, Lira first gained notoriety and an online following for writing against the Western consensus about the war, which was that Western “unity” would enable Ukraine to defeat Russia decisively and the Putin regime would collapse. He was branded as pro-Russian in Ukraine and subsequently arrested.

Now, virtually all his predictions have been proved right. Consider this latest report from The New York Times, which was an early cheerleader of the war but recently has started publishing more critical pieces.

In the new article titled, “Russia Regains Upper Hand in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv’s Troops Struggle”, some of the anecdotes reported among Ukrainian soldiers would have been comical if they weren’t so tragic.

“One Ukrainian soldier, part of a brigade tasked with holding the line southwest of Avdiivka, pointed to a video he took during training recently,” it said.

“The instructors, trying to stifle their laughs, were forced to hold up the man, who was in his mid-50s, just so he could fire his rifle. The man was crippled from alcoholism.”

The same soldier estimated that “‘Three out of 10 soldiers who show up are no better than drunks who fell asleep and woke up in uniform,’ referring to the new recruits who arrive at his brigade.”

Two other soldiers interviewed complained that ammunition was running out fast.

“‘Today we had two shells, but some days we don’t have any in these positions,’ said a crew’s commander. ‘The last time we fired was four days ago, and that was only five shells.’”

Another commented: “I have two tanks, but only five shells. It’s a bad situation now.”

This isn’t the picture painted by Western governments and their media allies; quite the opposite. Their one single message has long been total victory, any day now. Critics such as Lira were silenced or sidelined.

So far as Washington is concerned, some journalists become a “cause celebre” because they serve a political agenda; others such as Lira and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are so dangerous they need to be silenced, jailed or killed. Still others, such as the more than 110 journalists killed by the Israeli military in Gaza, have meant nothing but inconvenience for challenging US-Israeli propaganda by reporting about the inhuman conditions on the ground.


First published in the South China Morning Post January 18, 2024

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