British man faces possible execution in Iraq for 'attempting to smuggle historical artefacts'

British man faces possible execution in Iraq for 'attempting to smuggle historical artefacts'
The family of Jim Fitton, a retired geologist, say the UK Foreign Office has 'days to save him' as he awaits trial in Baghdad for collecting stone fragments during a guided tour.
3 min read
30 April, 2022
Tour guides said members of the group could pick up and take pottery and stone fragments from the site, say the British man's family [Getty]

A retired British geologist could face the death penalty in Iraq after he was accused of trying to smuggle historical artefacts out of the country.

Jim Fitton was arrested while trying to leave Iraq on 21 March after he picked up stone fragments from an archaeological site in Eridu during a guided tour of the country's south, his family said.

Tour members were told that they would be able to take stone and pottery fragments with them "as the broken shards had no economic or historical value,” according to a statement from the British retiree's children.

“He is a retired geologist and a loving family man, not a criminal,” the statement read.

The family said they expect their father to go on trial in early May.

They have accused the British government of inaction in his case.

"The Foreign Office has, after a long delay, refused to help us at this time and are leaving our father to his fate," their statement read.

"We feel completely alone whilst our father sits in a holding cell, hundreds of miles away awaiting what could be a death sentence." 

Fitton's case has been taken on by his local MP.

"I take this extremely seriously," MP Wera Hobhouse said. "I have raised the dithering or delay of the foreign office and the minister for Asia and the Middle East in the house."

Addressing claims it has failed to act fast enough to secure Fitton's release, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said in a statement Friday: "We are providing consular support to a British national in Iraq and are in contact with the local authorities."

The Iraqi justice ministry has yet to release a statement about the British man’s detention. 

The New Arab contacted the ministry for comment on Fitton's case, but not receive a response by the time this article was published.

Iraq has suffered mass looting and destruction of its architectural heritage since the US invasion in 2003, including by the Islamic State.

Baghdad has asked for stolen artefacts to be returned to Iraq, with some items returned.

Iraqi law prohibits "the taking, buying or receiving in gift of any heritage or antiquity material, without notifying the state council of antiquities and heritage". Punishments range from 10 years’ imprisonment to the death penalty.