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A bloke who went mushroom picking on the Estonian border was arrested under suspicion of being a Russian spy that saw him spend a month in various detention centres.
Luke Stone, from Connecticut USA, had been living in Latvia for 12 years when he decided on a jaunt to neighbouring Estonia to pick mushrooms.
He loves foraging for wild fungi and is considering starting his own medicinal mushroom business, he told the Daily Star, which he uses to treat brain injuries he sustained five years ago. When he was unable to get hold of them in jail he said, "I was scared for my health".
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In early September Luke undertook a 40km hike to the small borough of Värska where he would stay the night.
Before bed he went for a stroll to a place locals had told him was a good place to pick wild mushrooms near the Russian border so headed off to see what he could find.
Locating what he was after he started picking, but just two handfuls in he said he was quickly surrounded by “what sounded like an approaching army”.
The army was actually a squad of border guards and a German shepherd patrolling the national boundary, and to them, Luke had looked suspicious.
One of the guards allegedly said: “Don’t move! Drop the mushrooms!’’
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They told him he had entered a “closed area”, a road reserved exclusively for border guards.
Here began a gruelling 27 days of incarceration that took him through different jails: “Värska jail, then to Tartu Prison, then to Võru jail, and onward to a notorious detention centre in Tallinn.”
“‘We are at war,' I was told. ‘You are very lucky to have been on the Estonian side of the border.’’’
He had been foraging right by the Russian border, where there are no walls or fences to mark the territory of neighbouring countries, just posts with gaps between them.
He did however take photos of the border posts that marked the line between the two countries which were later found on his phone by Estonian authorities.
The authorities, Luke said, deleted them during his incarceration.
“The Russians could have gotten you!” he claims one guard told him.
He claims to have asked them: “Do you think I’m a spy?” to which he was told “We can’t tell you that," before allegedly being quizzed on ever detail of his activity.
“Why did you make this trip?” “Why did you take that walking route?” “Why were you picking mushrooms?” “Why were you taking photos?”
The questioning, he said, picked apart every part of his story as the hours turned into days then weeks.
Frustrated at his imprisonment, he said the experience was like a “satirical reality show” and after a few days finally got a slot with a judge.
“Even though I officially had committed no crime, the judge ruled that I be sentenced to a preliminary two-month period at the Tallinn immigration detention centre ”.
He claims he was only legally meant to have been able to be detained for 48 hours and, despite weeks of pleading to be let go, was eventually labelled a flight risk.
As news got out about his plight, a local newspaper posted a front cover of Luke with the headline: “A Spy or a Forager?”
Luke’s girlfriend, Meliina, had been travelling to the detention centre to protest his incarceration.
He told the Star: “Meliina had been coming to the detention centre in protest against my unjust imprisonment and to confront their criminally dishonest entrapment agenda.
“No one would communicate by phone so she was coming in person in desperation. Officers would only communicate with her from the intercom or if she persisted by coming to the outside gates and talking thru the bars."
Then, on his 27th day of incarceration, things finally changed.
“Then one day she accidentally was let inside all three prison gates and the immigration police who were ignoring her were surprised by a face-to-face confrontation.
He said the guards: “Offered up tickets for me to leave immediately.
“Suddenly the police who had been stonewalling my communication attempts for weeks came and met with me and my basic right to leave Estonia was honoured with tickets to leave the next day.”
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