Geologist Faces Death Penalty in Iraq for Strange Law

A retired British geologist accused of smuggling historic items out of Iraq is facing the death penalty has said he did not know he had broken the law.

Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery he had found at an archaelogical site in Eridu.

Fitton has been in custody since March 20, when Iraqi officials found 12 small shards of pottery in his luggage at the Baghdad airport. According to a petition started by Fitton’s two children and son-in-law, which has received almost 270,000 signatures, the statutory punishment for smuggling historical artifacts out of Iraq is execution. (Fitton’s legal team has said it believes this outcome is unlikely.)

Thair Soud, Fitton’s Iraqi lawyer, previously attempted to close the case before it reached trial on the grounds that it would hurt Iraq’s growing tourist economy. Now, Soud will need to prove in court that Fitton did not have any criminal intent. Fitton’s children told the BBC that he did not know the objects were historically significant.

Wera Hobhouse, Fitton’s representative in the British Parliament, brought the case to the attention of the British government weeks ago. “It is an absolute travesty for Jim and his family that the Foreign Office has refused to get involved despite the family’s lawyer advising that an intervention would make a difference in this case,” Hobhouse told the Guardian on May 5. “This is a life-or-death situation.”

In a parliament meeting on Wednesday, May 11, Hobhouse again raised Jim Fitton’s case.

“He is sitting in a cell in Iraq, he has missed his daughter’s wedding, and he potentially faces the death penalty. His family are worried sick,” Hobhouse said, again urging the British government to intervene.

James Cleverly, minister of state for Europe and North America, stated, “We cannot, of course, interfere or seek to interfere with the judicial process of another country, just as we would not expect interference in our own judicial process,” adding that workers from the British consulate in Iraq had visited Fitton four times.

Multiple other members of the parliament continued to press Cleverly on what the foreign ministry was doing to help Fitton, but his answers remained vague.

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