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British geologist, 66, faces the DEATH PENALTY in Iraq for ‘smuggling historical artefacts’

A retired British geologist is at risk of facing the death penalty after being accused of attempting to smuggle historic artefacts out of Iraq, according to his family.

UK ministers have faced calls to intervene to help ‘make a difference’ in the case of Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in the Middle-Eastern country. 

Father-of-two Mr Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, was held over smuggling allegations during his first visit to the country for a geology and archaeology tour. 

His children – Joshua and Leila, and Leila’s husband Sam Tasker – have launched a petition to press the UK Government to help with his case.

Mr Tasker said in a statement Mr Fitton and a German man on the trip were arrested after the group’s baggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards said to have been recovered from his luggage.

His family say he is accused of taking broken shards of pottery found at the Eridu historical site in southern Iraq. The incident took place on March 20 and a serious illness to the group’s tour guide was also reported.

UK ministers have faced calls to intervene to help ‘make a difference’ in the case of Jim Fitton (pictured with his wife) 66, who has been detained in the Middle-Eastern country

‘Whilst on the tour, our father visited historical sites around Iraq, where his tour group found fragments of stones and shards of broken pottery in piles on the ground,’ the man’s family wrote with in the petition. 

‘These fragments were in the open, unguarded and with no signage warning against removal. Tour leaders also collected the shards as souvenirs at the site in Eridu. 

‘Tour members were told that this would not be an issue, as the broken shards had no economic or historical value.’ It added: ‘We think that our father may be put on trial the week commencing May 8, after Eid in Iraq.

‘We have days to save him before sentencing and we need the Foreign Office to help by intervening in his case now. Our lawyer has drafted a proposal for cessation of the case and the immediate repatriation of our father, which requires the backing of the Foreign Office to put to the Iraqi judiciary.’

Mr Tasker, in a statement, explained: ‘Jim would often bring home small souvenirs from his trips to remember the journey by and share his experiences with us.

‘To him this was no more significant than bringing home a small stone from the beach to remember a special family holiday. The items are widely agreed to be valueless.

‘This is the offence that now sees my father-in-law facing a potential death sentence under article 41 of the Iraqi artefacts law no.55, of 2002.’

Modern day Iraq occupies the land that was once Mesopotamia, and as a result has a trove of historical sites – including the ancient city of Babylon.

The site in question, Eridu, is found in southern Mesopotamia, and is considered to be the earliest city in the southern region – dating back to approximately 5,400BC.

Archaeological looting in Iraq has taken place since at least the 19th century, and often occurred in the chaos that followed war – including the 2003 Iraq war.

As a result, Iraq has strict laws in place against looting, and anyone found guilty can be severely punished – with large fines, prison sentences and even the death penalty.

Father-of-two Mr Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, was held over smuggling allegations during his first visit to the country for a geology and archaeology tour. His family say that he has been accused of stealing fragments that were in the open at Eridu, an ancient ruin of a city that is found in Iraq, and was once in southern Mesopotamia

Father-of-two Mr Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, was held over smuggling allegations during his first visit to the country for a geology and archaeology tour. His family say that he has been accused of stealing fragments that were in the open at Eridu, an ancient ruin of a city that is found in Iraq, and was once in southern Mesopotamia

According to Iraq’s law No. 55, antiquities are defined as ‘movable and immovable property which has been built, made, carved, produced, written or painted by man, those age of which is not less than 200 years, as well as human and animal skeletons and plant remains.’

The law says: ‘Discovering, taking, purchasing or receiving as a gift any antiquity or heritage material that originated in Iraq, without promptly notifying and registering the object with the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, is a violation of Law Number 55.’

It continues: ‘The penalties for violating Law Number 55 may include incarceration of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Iraqi Dinars (£55). 

‘Illegal excavation (looting) may result in imprisonment for a period of up to 15 years and a fine of two times the value of the damages sustained. And trafficking in antiquities is punishable with a term of imprisonment for a period not to exceed 10 years and a fine of up to 1,000,000 Iraqi Dinars (£550).’

Mr Fitton’s family have said that their father could even be facing the death penalty. 

In 2013, a law was proposed in Iraq that would change the penalties for those found guilty of looting to be less severe. It was not immediately clear if the law passed.

Pictured: Brickwork is seen at the Eridu archaeological site in Iraq (file photo)

Pictured: Brickwork is seen at the Eridu archaeological site in Iraq (file photo)

Mr Fitton’s son-in-law Mr Tasker is a constituent of Wera Hobhouse, a British MP for Bath of the Liberal Democrat party, who has raised the case in the House of Commons and urged ministers to respond to the ‘incredibly serious’ issue.

She said: ‘The situation surrounding Jim Fitton and his German counterpart is deeply worrying and my thoughts are with them and their families during this difficult period. It is impossible to imagine the concern and worry that Jim and his family are going through.

‘From speaking with Jim’s family it is clear that he would not intentionally disrespect or appropriate the rich and fascinating culture of the region.

‘I have written to the Foreign Office, been in touch with the consulate support services, and contacted the minister’s office directly but so far the response has been disappointing.

‘Jim’s lawyer has advised that an intervention from the British Government will make a difference in this case. That is why I am urging the Government to intervene to make Jim’s release more likely.

‘I am committed to doing everything I can by working with the Government to secure the release of Jim who has been so questionably detained in Iraq. Jim and his German counterpart must be returned safely home to their families.’

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said: ‘We are providing consular support to a British national in Iraq and are in contact with the local authorities.’

The family petition can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/our-father-is-facing-the-death-penalty-in-iraq-freejimfitton.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk