British geologist risks facing death penalty 'for smuggling Iraqi artefacts'

1 May 2022, 12:49

Mr Fitton risks facing the death penalty in Iraq
Mr Fitton risks facing the death penalty in Iraq. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

A retired British geologist at risk of facing the death penalty needs "timely intervention" after he was accused of smuggling artefacts out of Iraq.

Almost 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for Jim Fitton to be released.

The 66-year-old had collected stones and parts of broken pottery as souvenirs while on a trip to Eridu, in Iraq's south-eastern region, during an organised tour, his family said.

But those items were considered to be artefacts under Iraqi law, and the charge states that "whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution".

Mr Fitton, who worked as a geologist for oil and gas companies and lives in Malaysia with wife Sarijah, has been detained for five weeks.

Read more: Boris Becker's jail term is shocking and unfair, says his daughter

His lawyer has drafted a proposal to have the case closed but the Foreign Office needs to endorse it so a high-level meeting can be organised, the family said.

The proposal cites the "clear lack of criminality, that Jim is a victim of poor guidance and circumstance, and also cites the huge investment that the UK has made in the Iraqi governmental and judicial framework through FCDO funding in the past few years".

A petition calling for him to be released said: "We feel completely alone whilst our father sits in a holding cell, hundreds of miles away awaiting what could be a death sentence.

"Please help free our father. He is a retired geologist and a loving family man, not a criminal. The Foreign Office needs to do everything they can to save his life and bring him home."

Mr Fitton's daughter, Leila, and her husband, Sam Tasker, said he is due to be sentenced this month – just as they planned to celebrate their wedding.

"There is never a good time for something like this to happen but we are one week away from what should be the happiest day of our lives, and the culmination of more than two years of planning, and it's been turned into an absolute living nightmare," they said.

"We have accepted the fact that, without timely intervention from the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Jim will be unable to attend this ceremony too."

A sentencing is expected after May 8.

The petition was signed by more than 93,000 people on Sunday.

Read more: Chris Bryant says he was 'touched up' by senior MPs amid outcry at Parliament's culture

Mr Fitton's family said in a statement: "Jim really appreciates the support from old colleagues, good friends, kindred spirits, and complete strangers who have not allowed this to go unnoticed.

"We will continue to fight while we continue to have you at our backs."

The family statement, in an update on the petition website, said: "Leila has not seen Jim for more than two years due to Covid travel restrictions.

"We held a small Covid wedding ceremony in Bath in August of last year for close friends and our British family members, mostly on my side.

"We have, since then, been planning a larger celebration in Malaysia with all of Leila's extended family.

"This is scheduled on May 8. Obviously there is never a good time for something like this to happen but we are one week away from what should be the happiest day of our lives, and the culmination of more than two years of planning, and it's been turned into an absolute living nightmare."

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling said last week: "We understand the urgency of the case, and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr Fitton's case and the UK's opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle."

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