Dad may face death penalty in Iraq after collecting stones as souvenirs

·3-min read

A father of two could be facing the death penalty after being accused of taking stones and broken pottery while on an archaeology tour in Iraq.

In March this year, Jim Fitton, 66, was set to return home to Kuala Lumpur where the British national lives with his wife, the Associated Press reported.

However, his family soon discovered Mr Fitton was being detained in Iraq, after authorities found 12 fragments of pottery and other shards in his possession.

All of the fragments were souvenirs and Mr Fitton's family said they were collected during a group tourism expedition to Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian site in what is now Dhi Qar province.

British geologist Jim Fitton with his wife Sarijah Fitton. Source: PA
British geologist Jim Fitton may face the death penalty in Iraq for allegedly attempting to smuggle historic artefacts. Source: PA

Mr Fitton is a retired geologist, who has reportedly travelled extensively for his work. He was arrested alongside German Volker Waldmann.

Both Mr Fitton and Mr Waldmann are currently going through the courts in Iraq accused of attempting to smuggle antiquities.

Mr Waldmann said the two items found in his possession were not his and instead had been given to him by Mr Fitton to carry.

“But did you put them in your bag?” asked head judge Jaber Abdel Jabir, the Associated Press reported.

“Didn’t you know these were Iraqi antiquities?”

Mr Waldmann said he didn’t pick up the items from the site, only agreed to carry them for Fitton.

Jim Fitton (left) and Volker Waldmann pleaded their innocence to judges who questioned their intention and the size of items taken. Source: AP
Jim Fitton (left) and Volker Waldmann pleaded their innocence to judges who questioned their intention and the size of items taken. Source: AP

Accused says he's unaware of Iraqi laws

Mr Fitton said he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments, but said “at the time I didn’t know about Iraqi laws,” or that taking the shards was not permitted.

He said when he picked up the artefacts there weren't any fences, guards or signage.

He added that as a geologist he was in the habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and had no intention to sell them.

“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites,” Mr Jabir said.

“One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden.”

According to Mr Fitton, some of the shards he picked up were no bigger than his fingernail, however, the judge says that does not matter.

Both Mr Fitton and Mr Waldmann could face the death penalty in Iraq, though legal experts have said such an outcome is unlikely.

Pictured is retired British geologist Jim Fitton with his wife Sarijah Fitton and his daughter Leila Fitton.
Retired British geologist Jim Fitton (far right) claims he didn't know taking the artefacts was a crime. Source: AP

In court, British and German embassy officials were present and Mr Fitton's lawyer Thair Soud told The Associated Press more evidence will be submitted to clear their names.

This includes testimony from government officials present at the site where the fragments were collected, he said.

Mr Soud previously drafted a proposal to have the case closed before the trial, claiming going forward could harm Iraq's national interests.

Tourism is a nascent industry in Iraq, though last year the government introduced visas on arrival to encourage international visitors.

With Associated Press

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