It's been 36 days since Bohemia Interactive confirmed that two of its developers had been arrested during their trip to the Greek island of Lemnos. Ivan Buchta and Martin Pezlar face up to 20 years in prison for charges of spying, which they continue to deny. And now, a strike in Greece's judicial system is impeding any progress in their case.
To get an update on Ivan and Martin, I spoke with Jay Crowe, Creative Director at Bohemia, about the imprisonment of two of his friends and colleagues.
Jay Crowe, Creative Director: We don't have any direct form of communication with the guys, but they're able to call their families. Obviously, being in a foreign prison they don't feel great, to say the least. They're trying to stay strong and maintain a faith in justice.
Do you have any sense of Ivan and Martin's emotional state?
Crowe Having not been in direct contact with the guys, it's hard to tell. But, knowing Ivan, I can say he's a real family man. This year, while presenting our game at E3, Ivan and I were roommates. On account of his famous snoring, you might say I'd drawn the short straw. But, after a long day of presenting, we'd share some beers, and he'd share funny stories about his wife and baby daughter. He missed them both terribly after only a week away from them. I can't begin to imagine what he's going through right now.
Although the more recent trip by Ivan and Martin was a personal trip, Bohemia has previously spent time in Limnos for game research. Had Bohemia previously had any interaction with the Greek government or military, either in person or to notify officials of the purpose of their visit?
Crowe: Actually, none of the visits to the island have ever been beyond the scope of what tourists are entitled to do and, as such, there's never been a need to establish any formal contact with local authorities.
How did this situation arise, from your understanding?
Crowe: As it stands, it's an incredibly frustrating situation, one which we're still struggling to comprehend, really. From what we understand, Ivan and Martin didn't enter any military areas and—from what their lawyer has presented thus far in the media—it's impossible to think that they've documented anything that could even remotely be classified as "espionage." They were arrested near their hotel and the fact they've found themselves caught up in this ongoing situation is simply mind-boggling.
It really does seem to have spiraled out of all proportion. Only hours after their arrest some bizarre media campaign seemed to kick into gear—talking about Czech spies arrested in the act of photographing military complexes to be used in Arma 3—all despite the fact that they weren't actually formally charged with anything until much later on. I can't imagine that helped the public perception of the situation.
In a previous press release, a statement made by Ivan and Martin described their conditions as “tough,” although they also mention that they're treated “fairly and correctly.” What are their living conditions? Where are they being detained?
Crowe: The latest information is that they're being detained at a facility in Chios. Obviously, I can't speak for the guys but, personally, the idea of being torn away from family and friends and imprisoned in a foreign jail is, well, "tough" would be putting it mildly. Their summer holiday turned into an unmitigated disaster. Being accused of espionage after visiting an island on vacation might somehow sound like a bad joke, but it's a real nightmare for all involved.
Has the Czech government involved itself on Bohemia's behalf, and if not, do you expect it to?
Crowe: From what we know, local authorities have already accused them of espionage and have filed formal charges. As we understand, their lawyer is seeking bail so that the guys can return for the duration of the investigation; however, we're aware of reports in the media suggesting that a protest by judges and doctors over austerity budget-cuts may delay the judicial process in Greece. The whole thing is a real mess, totally frustrating. While Bohemia itself is not directly involved in this situation, we strongly hope that Czech and EU institutions are already closely monitoring the case.
How has this event affected development of Arma 3?
Crowe: It's come as a shock to us all. Maxell (Martin Pezlar) is a passionate artist—we even named Arma 3's Camp Maxwell after him—and, of course, Ivan's the heart of Arma 3. Setting out the initial vision over two years ago, he's been a driving force in the project ever since. Following this incident, development has continued—albeit a little less splendidly—and the team has focused upon reviewing and executing the tasks identified as being key to the release of our public alpha.
On a personal note—having worked side-by-side with Ivan since last December and across previous projects, and having benefited from his wealth of experience and peerless zeal—I certainly look forward to their swift return home.
What's the most effective way that gamers can offer support to Ivan and Martin?
Crowe: Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and wish them a speedy return home. If you feel able to support them in any way, please do so. Friends, gamers and concerned citizens have already started up some activities online, so perhaps it's best to start by checking those.
Community-run support page www.helpivanmartin.org recommends sending a Twitter message to Greece's prime minister and writing to Greek embassies, among other actions . You can also send a note of encouragement to Ivan and Martin through this digital postcard page.