Russian mercenary boss jokes about checking ‘torture cellar’ for detained WSJ reporter

A Russian mercenary group leader joked about checking a “torture cellar” for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a sign of the increasingly hostile environment in the country against journalists.

The joke was made in a recent video by Alexander Borodai, the leader of the Wagner Group, a mercenary organization based in Russia. “Where is Gershkovich? Let me check the torture cellar,” he said in the video, referring to the journalist who had been detained in Russia since February.

The video was posted on a Russian social media platform and quickly circulated online, sparking criticism from international media organizations and human rights groups.

Gershkovich, a Moscow-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was detained in February while covering a story about the activities of the Wagner Group. He was accused of entering Russia illegally, though he had the proper visa.

The incident has been widely condemned by international organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which called it a “threat to press freedom.”

Gershkovich has denied the charges and is currently being held in a detention center in Moscow. He is facing up to five years in prison if convicted.

Borodai's joke comes as the Kremlin has increasingly cracked down on press freedom in the country. In recent months, several prominent journalists have been arrested and detained, sparking criticism from international organizations like the CPJ.

The incident highlights the dangerous environment for journalists in Russia, where press freedom is regularly under attack. It's a reminder that even with the threat of jail time and other forms of intimidation, journalists must continue to do their jobs and cover the stories that need to be told.