Indian scientists are being asked to help facilitate the release of two Czech entomologists who have been detained in an Indian jail since 22 June.

Petr Švácha, of the Institute of Entomology at the Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in České Budějovice, and his colleague Emil Kučera were arrested for collecting beetles and butterflies without permission from a national park in West Bengal, in violation of the Indian Biodiversity Act. Arguments are set to be heard on the case on 7 July in Darjeeling.

Although the Indian media has accused them of collecting insects for the Chinese medicine market, the Czechs claim that they were unaware that collecting insects was illegal in India. “These people are sincere, genuine entomologists, and the specimens that they have collected are of no commercial value,” says Max Barclay, a senior curator at the Natural History Museum in London, who is calling for their release.

Jan Sula, director of the Czech institute, told Indian authorities that “we believe the incident resulted from misunderstanding as both men did not realize that they had entered the national park”.

Leading invertebrate scientists in India are planning to submit a joint petition to the Indian prime minister and the chief minister of West Bengal to free the researchers.