British geologist Jim Fitton jailed in Iraq for smuggling

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Jim Fitton’s family has a petition on change.org that has garnered nearly 300,000 signatures

British geologist Jim Fitton has been sentenced to 15 years in Iraq for smuggling antiquities.

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12 stones and potsherds were found on the 66-year-old, who was visiting Iraq during an archaeological holiday.

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The verdict and sentence shocked the court and its Iraqi lawyers.

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Fitton’s family have claimed that he had no criminal intentions and was unaware that taking the items was a crime.

A petition they set up on change.org has already garnered nearly 300,000 signatures.

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A German man who was on trial for the same crime with Fitton has been found not guilty and will be released.

Here’s everything you need to know about Jim Fitton and what he was convicted of.

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Who is Jim Fitton?

Jim Fitton is a 66 year old retired geologist from Bath.

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British geologist Jim Fitton arrives at a courthouse in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

He visited Iraq as a tourist on a tour of the country’s archaeological sites.

Fitton was arrested on March 22 at Baghdad airport along with German national Volker Waldmann.

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He said he took the items as souvenirs when he visited a site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq.

Why was Jim Fitton jailed in Iraq?

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Fitton was found guilty of smuggling antiques out of Iraq and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Customs officials said he was in possession of 12 stones and pieces of pottery when he was arrested at Baghdad airport.

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Waldmann was arrested after being found in possession of two potsherds.

Fitton argued he wasn’t aware he was doing anything illegal and that the stones and ceramic pieces were collected for a personal “hobby”.

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Waldmann denied that the shards belonged to him and was found not guilty and should be released.

The maximum penalty for the crime of antiquities smuggling is the death penalty.

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What law did he break?

Fitton was charged under a 2002 law that bans anyone from “deliberately taking or attempting to take antiques out of Iraq.”

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The shards, more than 200 years old, have been classified as archaeological pieces by Iraqi officials.

Iraq has seen tens of thousands of its antiquities looted since the 2003 Iraq War.

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Smuggling remains rife in the country, which also saw many valuable historical items destroyed or looted during the war with Islamic State.

US returns over 17,000 confiscated archaeological items to Iraq (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

In 2021, the US returned over 17,000 confiscated historical items to Iraq.

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What did his lawyers say?

Fitton’s attorney was shocked by the verdict.

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After the verdict, Thair Soud said: “I thought the worst-case scenario would be a year’s suspension.”

Soud has vowed to appeal the decision and said in a statement: “The court’s decision was incorrect for two reasons.

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“The first is because it didn’t apply the law [correctly]and second, because of the severity of the punishment.

“My client did not deserve this punishment. The antiquities found on him were stones and broken pottery, which had no material or archaeological value.”

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What did his family say?

The judge said he reduced the sentence “because of the defendant’s advanced age.”

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But when he spoke, his family has described it as “tantamount to a death sentence”.

Speaking to ITV News, his daughter Leila said: “I couldn’t believe it. I think we’re still in shock.

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“This is the worst time of our lives.”

A petition she drew up Change.org already has almost 300,000 signatures.

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His son-in-law, Sam Tasker, expressed the shock the family was feeling at the time.

Tasker said: “It’s just overwhelming that this verdict could be reached when the judge himself accepted that Jim had no criminal intentions. It is hard to believe that this verdict was reached.”

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The family have called on the UK government to “support us in any way they can and to communicate with us at the highest level”.

What is the UK government doing?

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The Foreign Office has previously said it was unable to participate in another country’s court proceedings.

However, Fitton’s local MP, Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse, has called on foreign countries to intervene.

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Hobhouse said: “Now the Secretary of State needs to step in and there needs to be a thorough review of how cases like Jim’s are handled going forward.

“The government has ignored the family’s pleas to intervene. Ministers have failed to get in touch with Jim’s family and they have set a dangerous precedent for British citizens in trouble abroad.”

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