Free Emil Kučera: protesters demand release of Czech entomologist jailed in India

Photo: CTK

Around 100 people gathered on Thursday outside Indian embassies in the Czech Republic, Austria and Canada to protest the imprisonment of Emil Kučera, a Czech entomologist who was sentenced to three years in jail in the Indian state of West Bengal last week for illegally gathering rare insects.

Photo: CTK
Entomologist Ivan Kubát played his guitar to some 70 people who came together to protest the imprisonment of Emil Kučera, one of the two Czech entomologists arrested in India in June for gathering rare insects. He and his colleague, Petr Švácha, set out for the north-east of India in June. On June 22, they were arrested near Darjeeling having gathered several hundred insect specimens. Last week, a local court found Petr Švácha guilty and fined him the equivalent of 500 US dollars. But the other scientist, Emil Kučera, received three years in jail for the same offence. Josef Jelínek, the head of the Czech Entomological Society and one of the protest’s organizers, says the verdict is unfair.

“They may have offended the law bona fide, without being properly informed about it, but we don’t believe that they would do it for commercial purposes. We believe that laws should be applied to all persons equally, and we cannot understand why one of the two people, who were always together and did the same, was acquitted while the other was imprisoned. We would therefore like to protest against that.”

Photo: Archiv of Radio Prague
The entomologists were not sent to India by any scientific institution; they even took time off for the trip. Also, they never applied for a permit to collect insects. The court therefore suspected they collected the specimens for commercial purposes. Ashok Kumar, the vice-chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, assisted the prosecution in the case.

“If genuine scientists get such permissions in India, the government may ask them to collaborate with a local government agency or a local scientist so that they can work together. Such permissions are granted if they had gone to Zoological Survey of India, which is an agency that does this work, and there are many others. But to come to a country on tourist visas, that amounts to taking the law in your own hands. That is the issue here.”

Photo: Zdeněk Vališ
More than 500 scientists from around the world signed a petition calling for the release of Mr Kučera and Švácha, pointing out that both of them are renowned entomologists. They also claim that collecting insects cannot endanger them – that could only happen if their habitat is put at risk. The head of the Czech Entomological Society Josef Jelínek says that the Indian Biodiversity Act from 2002 that the Czech scientists apparently breached may even prevent entomological research as such.

“It’s characteristic for entomology that it in fact cannot exist without a broad international cooperation; the people know each other and cooperate regularly. We are all probably somewhat disturbed by the new laws adopted in several countries which not only protect the environment but even attack the base of this international cooperation.”

Emil Kučera has appealed the verdict and remains in India. His colleagues in the Czech Republic hope they will welcome him back home soon.