by James McCarthy)
Greenpeace campaigner Anthony Perrett - one of the environmentalists arrested in Russia as part of the "Arctic 30" - has spoken of his ordeal in a tuberculosis riddled jail, but said: “I’d do it all again.”
The vegetarian arrived back home to a broken boiler after spending two months in a Russian prison with robbers and gangsters.
And as he returned safely to Wales on Saturday, he told WalesOnline how he communicated with pals by whistling the tune from The Great Escape; survived for 10 days on bread and water after refusing to eat prison meat; and coped with rats, stray cats and barely trained guard dogs in his filthy lock-up.
The 33-year-old was hauled before “a kangaroo court” and thrown into a Murmansk prison for trying to hang a banner on a Gazprom owned oil rig in an anti-climate change protest.
He said: “All the prison food had low grade meat of unknown origin in it.
“I’m a vegetarian and I lost a lot of weight. There was bread available every morning.”
Until packages started arriving from Greenpeace he just ate that.
Lawyers for himself and his fellow campaigners would visit weekly.
“We were not 100% isolated but we were in cells 23 hours a day,” Anthony said.
“We would have one hour to exercise in a four metre square cell with no roof. We would shout over the wall and speak to different people every day.
“Some days they would be Russian and some days they would be crew mates.”
He and fellow activists were captured from the Greenpeace ship Sunrise after it was boarded by the Russians on September 19.
“We chatted and stuff and whistled The Great Escape, that was as a kind of farewell,” Anthony said.
“We would greet people by shouting ‘Sunrise!’ or by saying, ‘Hello.’”
The eco-warriors were kept in 10 cells, five on either side of a corridor.
Anthony was charged with piracy. But that was dropped in favour of hooliganism. If convicted he could have been locked up for seven years.
He would protest there again, he said, but not “until there is a change in government.”
“It’s a huge campaign to save the Arctic,” Anthony added.
Murmansk prison was squalid.
“The entire first floor of the block was contaminated with TB,” he said.
“You would see all the guys on the first floor wearing face masks. There was a real risk of tuberculosis everywhere.”
There were no cockroaches though.
“One virtue of being in Murmansk is that it’s bloody freezing,” Anthony said.
“So pests are not a huge problem. There were a lot of rats and stray cats in there.
“One night there was a midnight raid and I found myself face to face with a guard dog.
“It was rather peculiar to have a snarling guard dog in my face. I’m a bit of a dog guy so I was like, ‘Oh, hello.’
“I think I might have won him over with my Welsh charm, but I didn’t try to stroke him.”
On November 13 he was moved to St Petersburg’s Kresty prison.
“There was a family of rats outside my window there,” Anthony said.
“I would throw them bits of bread because they were interesting to watch. I noted I was the one in the cage and they were the ones on the outside.”
Anthony, from Newport in South Wales, spent his time reading.
“I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said.
“I read 50-odd novels. The librarian would come around on a daily basis. Some books you wanted to savour and you didn’t want to read them too quickly.
“Others you just wanted to get to the end of so you could swap it for something better.
“I was reading like you do for a masters degree.”
The group were banned from sharing cells with each other.
“One of my cellmates was a convicted robber and had assaulted a police officer with a deadly weapon,” Anthony said.
“And the other chap was a suspected gangster.”
He dubbed them “bloody nice chaps”.
“I got on very well with them, they were nice to me,” Anthony said.
His companions in holding cells at court were as colourful.
“I have been locked in cells with seven Russian gangsters, many with ears and fingers missing, scars of violence all over them.
“I was just accepted as one of them.”
He was bailed on November 20. He was joined there by girlfriend Zahara Ally.
His Russian has improved since he left Wales.
“It’s still not conversational standard,” he said.
“I made a lot of drawings, I could explain stories through drawings and created crude comic books for what I was trying to explain.”
Greenpeace sent him paper and a pencil in one of their parcels.
“I made hundreds, absolutely hundreds of drawings,” Anthony said.
“I gave them to various different people. I’ve a few left.”
Greenpeace are keen to get their boat back.
“That will be a nightmare but it has been ordered back by the international court of the sea,” Anthony said.
The vessel – an icebreaker – once belonged to Sealink.
“Give us back the Sunrise!” Anthony said.
“That would be great.”
The campaigners found out they were to be released on Christmas Eve.
But there were still bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
The authorities “invented a piece of paper” that allowed them to be let out of the country.
But the concocted slip baffled border guards. They detained them until their superiors told them what to do.
He arrived in London on Friday with activists Alexandra Harris and Phil Ball, Sunrise crew member Iain Rogers and former Daily Mirror journalist Kieron Bryan.
Another Brit activist, Frank Hewetson, was travelling to another country, Greenpeace said.
Anthony reached home yesterday morning, after 102 days in Russia.
“It’s fantastic being back,” Anthony said.
“I stopped at the Severn Bridge and paid my toll and they were like, ‘Oh, hello, how’s it going?’
“Everyone has been up for a bit of banter.
“It’s great to be able to communicate with people after spending so long speaking broken English and broken Russian.
“It’s nice to get home and not have to explain my jokes.
“I’m very happy to be home and I don’t have any plans to leave for the next four or five months.”
Anthony is keen to get back to doing voluntary work in the “lifeboat service on the Severn”.
“I have to pick my pager up and do some training and make my apologies for being away,” Anthony said.
*Blogger's note: I loved that he read so much. 50 books in three months is pretty good. The story itself is interesting but I love that he chose to read.