Czechs charged with spying in Greece freed after four months

Photo: Filip Jandourek

After four months in a Greek jail facing spying charges, two Czech computer games developers are set to return home very soon. The pair, who were arrested for taking photos of a military facility on the island of Lemnos, have been freed on bail in the wake of a fresh ruling from the Athens authorities stating that they do not represent a security threat.

Martin Pezlar,  Ivan Buchta,  photo: Lidové noviny,  21.11.2012
Martin Pezlar, 28, and Ivan Buchta, 33, are developers for a Prague-based computer games maker named Bohemia Interactive. While on holiday in September on the island of Lemnos, located near the Greek-Turkish border, they took photos of a local army base – they say with a view to using the pictures in connection with a new project.

The two were subsequently arrested on charges of espionage that could have carried sentences of 20 years behind bars. However, they have just been released on bail of EUR 5,000 each, following lobbying from the Czech president, prime minister and foreign minister. Indeed, Greece’s prime minister, Antonis Samaras, personally informed his Czech counterpart, Petr Nečas, about the decision on Tuesday.

The Czech consul in Athens, Blanka Kovácsová – who visited the pair last week – outlines the turning point in the case.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“The commission that decided on their charges decided that their activities did not threaten the security of the Greek state. On that basis, agreement to bail was granted. But that doesn’t mean that the trial will not take place. It will take place within 18 months of their arrest, or it should.”

But perhaps it will not. Pezlar and Buchta’s Czech lawyer, Dagmar Raupachová, is optimistic her clients will not actually be tried for spying.

“The situation regarding the evidence in the case file does not support the possibility of the crime of espionage being proven. I read between the lines of yesterday’s decision that there will be a change of legal qualification.”

That is likely to mean that the charge of spying will be replaced with one of taking photographs without a permit. That normally carries a fine in Greece, so in view of the fact the games developers have already spent several months in prison, they may well face no further punishment.

Buchta and Pezlar have received support from people in the Czech Republic and in the international gaming industry. Their fathers travelled to Greece to visit them in detention, while they have been allowed to phone home.

Lemnos,  photo: Phelim123,  CC 3.0 license
Buchta’s mother Hana said she was overjoyed at Tuesday’s news.

“It’s wonderful, of course, wonderful. We’ve been waiting for this news for over four months, so we’re incredibly happy. I’m hugely relieved but the ultimate relief won’t come until I see him and hug him at the airport.”

The pair are due to return to the Czech Republic on Thursday.