March 23, 2005

Canadian teen jailed for taking rock from Parthenon

Posted at 6:36 pm in Acropolis

Not really that relevant, except inasmuch as it highlights how seriously Greece treats the protection of its antiquities nowadays

Victoria Times Colonist

Spring break in a Greek jail
Picking up a rock at Parthenon puts Duncan teen on wrong side of law

It’s unlikely Madelaine Gierc’s classmates will be able to top her stories about what she did during spring break.

The 16-year-old Grade 11 student from Duncan spent two nights in Athens police cells this week after being arrested for allegedly removing a piece of marble from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon, the marble temple perched on the Acropolis overlooking Athens.

Gierc was arrested after a security guard at the closely monitored site charged she had picked up the 13-centimetre-square stone, which was lying on the ground. Gierc said she picked up the stone for a photograph and had no intention of removing it.

Her father, Tom Gierc, flew to Athens to be with his oldest daughter after a 4:30 a.m. Sunday call from Foreign Affairs. The teenager’s anxious family got word Tuesday morning that she had been released to one of the trip supervisors and had met up with her father.

“She’s safe and with her dad. We’re all feeling much better now,” said relieved mother Lael Gierc, after receiving the call from Athens. “We were scared. . . . It’s been an awful experience.”

As Gierc met her father at the airport she told reporters she had just walked by the temple when she picked up a yellow, dusty stone. “We took a picture of myself with a rock and a column in the background and the guard must have thought we were heading for the exit,” she said.

“There were no signs warning tourists not to pick up stones. There were 33 in our group and no one heard anyone saying we weren’t to touch anything.”

Gierc has been charged with illegally possessing antiquities, but Investigating Magistrate Melpomeni Chiotou ruled Tuesday that she would not be detained pending trial, and was free to leave the country.

The teenager has been told she does not have to attend the trial, said her aunt Lisa James, acting as spokeswoman for the family. “It still has to go to court sometime in the next two years, but it can be handled by the people there,” James said.

The charge has changed several times since Gierc first appeared Monday and the family believes it has been reduced to a misdemeanor, James said.

The family is relying on a lawyer, hired from a list provided by Foreign Affairs, to look after the legal side. Legal fees, plus the $5,000 round-trip airfare for Tom Gierc, who owns a wood products business, are making the trip an expensive venture, James said.

Gierc was treated well while in custody and was kept separate from other prisoners. The police were “really nice,” Gierc told her family.

“They even said if she didn’t like the jail food they would get her some other food and they got her some french fries one night. She said the jail food was really, really good Greek food. She was quite impressed with what she got,” James said.

Gierc and her father will remain in Greece until Saturday to do as much sightseeing as they can cram into the remaining holiday.

Greece has strict laws to protect its hundreds of antiquity sites. It is illegal to own, buy, sell or excavate antiquities without a permit and items found accidentally must be handed over to authorities.

Reports from Greece say the maximum sentence for the charge could be 10 years in jail, but such severe sentences are rarely imposed.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005

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