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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 10:06 GMT
Greek plane-spotters: What should happen next?
Euro MP Richard Howitt has said that a decision to free at least some of the British plane-spotters held in Greece on espionage charges could be made by Wednesday.

Although the Greek justice minister, Filippos Petsalnikos, claimed that national security was breached by the group of 12, Mr Howitt said the Foreign Ministry had been encouraging about their prospects.

It is hoped that the three-week ordeal, which began with their arrest at the Kalamata airbase on 8 November, will end when their case goes before a three judge panel.

The group of 11 men and one woman have denied spying charges, which carry a 20-year maximum sentence.

Are you happy with the way the plane-spotters have been treated by both the British and Greek authorities? What do you think can be done to resolve the situation?

This Talking Point was suggested by Eva Wyatt, UK :

What do you think about Greece's conduct towards the British plane-spotters? If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

It is for the Greek people and government to decide whether they regard plane spotting as a danger to their national security. There was a similar case to this twenty-odd years ago and I would have thought anyone going to Greece for plane spotting would have taken the trouble to find out how it was likely to be viewed there before going. Or do these people inhabit a world completely cut off from reality?
David Hazel, UK

Maybe we could do a swap - the prisoners for the Elgin Marbles.

The empire doesn't exist any more folks

Simon Moore, UK
The laws and government of Greece may well appear strange in some ways, so do the laws and government of the UK! This whole affair seems to centre around the belief that if you are British you should automatically be immune from the laws of any other country. The empire doesn't exist any more folks, didn't anyone tell you?
Simon Moore, UK

And our leaders want us to join countries like Greece in a Federated European state? Whatever will they make of our trainspotters?
Doug Prewer, Hong Kong

Does this make plane spotting an extreme sport?
Andy W, UK

The Greeks are within their rights to arrest and/or jail the British plain spotters. They continued to violate Greek law after having been verbally warned. When visiting any country a person must accept their laws and abide by them. This was a blatant disregard and disrespect for Greek law and the plane spotters should be punished according to it. When will British people learn that they cannot behave as they wish wherever they go? Being British is not a passport to do what you wish and an example should be set.
Oscar, UK

They've turned a bunch of hapless, anorak-wearing tourists into a ruthless cell of dangerous master spies

Chris B, England
I think the Greek government is secretly thrilled to bits that anyone would want to take photos of their state of the ark air force. To make it look really good they've turned a bunch of hapless, anorak-wearing tourists into a ruthless cell of dangerous master spies. It's situation comedy at its best. No harm will come to them and in the meantime, Greek military engineers will probably uncover more exciting technical secrets by dismantling the captured cameras, than the cameras hold on film. If the prisoners were interested in spying on military aviation technology, Greece would come somewhere on the list between Uganda and the Galapagos Islands I reckon. You can pick up old Soviet fighter aircraft, as advanced as anything Greece is operating, from the classified ads in aviation magazines. Oops - shouldn't have said that, should I? Next time I go to Greece I'll be slung in prison for giving away their military secrets.
Chris B, England

Plane spotting has never been so interesting.
Martyn Davies, UK

Given Britain's track record, the hypocrisy of the British Foreign Affairs Department in this instance is expected but nonetheless inexcusable. Perhaps British officials would achieve more by counselling and warning 'plane-spotters' of the dangers of engaging in their hobby outside Britain. Alternatively, they might consider employing them to spot and track British and US airplanes as they launch air strikes against innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Such records will be useful when the history of the "war on terror" is written.
George, Australia

I cannot understand why the British, every time their citizens get into problems, expect that they would be treated differently to all other nationalities

Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE
There has not been any suggestion that the Greek authorities mistreated these individuals. The golden rule is that one has to expect justice according to the laws of the host country, not what you would expect back home. I cannot understand why the British, every time their citizens get into problems, expect that they would be treated differently to all other nationalities. Prison conditions or the process of detention is not the same in every country. Here we are talking about a European country whose laws may have been broken albeit in ignorance. But then ignorance is no defence.
Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE

Among all the really silly comparisons of these idiots with real terrorists, something serious is being forgotten. Greece is the country that has several real terrorist groups, called May 1, November 17 and ELA that between them have carried out multiple murders and bombing. But Greece has so far failed to make any arrests, leading to suspicions of collusion. But let some crazy aeroplane spotter wander by, and the Greeks suddenly become crack detectives. Does this sort of thing make anyone else besides me wonder what is really going on?
Jon Livesey, USA

What are they going to charge them with - having a very sad hobby?

Jason, Manchester, England
You can't blame the Greek authorities for being very nervy where planes are concerned after 11th September; surely the plane-spotters must of thought of this? But this has gone on far too long and it's about time they were released. What are they going to charge them with - having a very sad hobby?
Jason, Manchester, England

The ignorant and chauvinist coverage from the UK media certainly doesn't help. Given that the group was arrested and warned three days before gives the game away, doesn't it? They are guilty of ignorance and stupidity and one of them could be guilty of more serious crimes given his links with the Turkish military. The Greek justice system doesn't need help from anyone, especially British tabloids. And you can thank the Greek Justice for not having laws like Mr Blunkett's latest proposals.
Manos Theocharopoulos, UK (Greek national)

Spy satellites have probably photographed the bases a billion times

Leigh Bowden, UK
The attitude seems strange because I'd have thought there wasn't really that much that is secret - especially in this day and age. Spy satellites have probably photographed the bases a billion times and plane information is available on the internet or in Jane's type publications. The Greeks might like to think they've got secrets but airbases and planes are the worst kept "secret" of them all.
Leigh Bowden, UK

This is a case of cultural colonialism. Why would the Greeks tolerate unauthorised British plane-spotters on prohibited territory? Maybe Greek lamb-spitting Easter festivities can be held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace?
Marco Zellini, UK

The Greeks have every right to arrest them

Phil, UK
Substitute Middle Eastern foreigners for white English plane-spotters. For Greek military airbase, substitute US airbase or nuclear power station. Now what do you have? A situation that in the UK or the US would have the intelligence services pressing the panic button. The Greeks have every right to arrest them, especially as the plane-spotters were warned not to take photographs at sensitive military installations. It is ironic that while the tabloids were falling over themselves to endorse Blunkett's 'special legal powers', they now are against an EU partner applying a less draconian form of them.
Phil, UK

Honestly - what exactly do the Greek authorities believe the British would want to spy on? Some of their cutting edge high tech military equipment perhaps? Don't make me laugh. Just release them and stop embarrassing yourselves.
Simon, UK/Finland

Would they have taken such risks on a visit to China or Russia?

Barry, England
As an overseas worker, I learnt a long time ago that it is not wise to walk into someone else's country, and just assume you can do what you do at home. These plane-spotters were stupid to do what they did, however innocent their intentions. Would they have taken such risks on a visit to China or Russia? I don't think so. Greek law is applicable to visitors as well as residents, regarding drugs, driving a car or visiting airports. This whole mess will surely be resolved sensibly, but it will be a good exercise in reminding the public that they must never take liberties in another country.
Barry, England

Like all suspected terrorists of foreign descent these people should be held without trial. That is what would happen to them in this country! Should they expect to be treated any differently abroad?
Duncan Drury, UK

I personally don't understand why this has been made such a big issue in the UK. We are talking about a group of people who are suspected of having violated some laws pertaining to national security and a judicial investigation is in progress as per Greek law. Would people suspected of breaking national security laws be let go in the UK before a proper and full investigation?
Andreas, Belgium/Cyprus

Hanging around their military bases armed with binoculars was crass and insensitive

Julian Hayward, UK
It might all have been innocuous, but surely they only have themselves to blame? After the events of September 11th and also Greece's ongoing tension with Turkey, hanging around their military bases armed with binoculars was crass and insensitive. We can only presume they either didn't think to ask in advance what they would be allowed to do, or ignored advice to stay away. It is not on to go abroad and just assume that one has a right to do there anything that would be tolerated here. When in Rome...
Julian Hayward, UK

These people were both aware of the situation and sensitive to it

Richard Chubb, UK
There was an interesting interview with one of the prisoners at the weekend. Apparently they were invited onto the base by a brigadier. This had all been arranged and cleared with the authorities. They were careful not to take any pictures and were arrested upon leaving the base. Surely if this is the case the authorities have not got a leg to stand on? Do any of the films contain photos of the base? If not then let them go. People are right to point out that Greece has a delicate security situation with Turkey and that local laws should be respected, but it appears these people were both aware of the situation and sensitive to it.
Richard Chubb, UK

Throw Greece out of the EU, sever all political ties, impose sanctions, and remove them from NATO. Too extreme? Not as extreme at locking up innocent individuals in poor conditions then threatening them with a 20 year prison sentence for taking a few pictures. Get real Greece.
Nick, UK

This is the silliest spying story on record

Linda WS, Canada
What exactly are the Greeks hiding, a cache of state of the art military technology? This is the silliest spying story on record surely.
Linda WS, Canada

I am Greek. I am a postgraduate student in Politics in Britain. Imagine what would happen if I was caught taking photographs of a British military base - twice? Probably the same thing that happened to the British people who were taking photographs of a military base in Greece.
Nikos, Greece

I am really sorry that the British plane-spotters do not find conditions in Greek jails up to their standards. However, the easiest way of avoiding being in a Greek prison is by obeying Greek laws and by not being stupidly arrogant and na´ve as in the case of those twelve.
Dennis, UK

Sometimes it's difficult to believe that Greece is not only part of the EU, but of Nato as well. When are the authorities going to be a little more mature and a little less paranoid?
Ray Marsh, Australia

Try and understand the circumstances before you raise your eyes heavenwards and condemn the Greeks' zeal

Rokos Frangos, UK
It's quite easy to be "less paranoid" if you live in Australia, a powerful island country in its wider region. Even the faintest knowledge of Greece's geography and history provides ample justification for its (admittedly frustrating) paranoia. There is still a very active and potent enmity between Greece and Turkey. This, combined with Athens hosting the Olympic games in 2004, the events of September 11th and a constant hum of disapproval from American authorities over Greece's 'lame security arrangements' are all reasons why the plane-spotters were foolish to try and photograph planes at a military base. There are signs everywhere saying it is illegal and they were warned three times. Try and understand the circumstances before you raise your eyes heavenwards and condemn the Greeks' zeal.
Rokos Frangos, UK

See also:

02 Dec 01 | Europe
Plane-spotters 'may soon be free'
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