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Iraq sentences a British geologist to 15 years in jail for smuggling ancient artefacts, his family says he had ‘no idea it was a crime’

The British geologist said that taking such artefacts was his "hobby" and said that he did not know what he was doing is illegal.

A British retired geologist has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by an Iraq court on Monday for attempting to smuggle ancient artefacts out of the country. Jim Fitton, 66, who originally hails from Bath, had stolen 12 stones and shards of broken pottery during his last geology and archaeology visit to the country.

While pronouncing the verdict, Judge Jabir Abd Jabir opined that Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle the relics, which were dated as older than 200 years as per a technical government investigation. He further added that the British geologist had picked them up with the intention of transporting them out of the country.

The maximum penalty for the crime in Iraq is death by hanging, but the court opted to give Jim Fitton, 66, a reduced term because of the accused’s old age, said the Judge.

However, when the judge questioned the British geologist as to why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, he said it was his “hobby” and said he did not know what he was doing is illegal. Fitton haa maintained that he had collected the items as souvenirs while visiting a heritage site in Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian site, that is now in the Dhi Qar province in southeast Iraq.

“I didn’t realise that taking them was against the law,” Fitton said, adding that some of the ancient sites were open and unguarded.

The family of the British geologist also defended Fitton by saying that he had no idea that he was doing anything illegal. “For a man of Jim’s age, 15 years in an Iraqi prison is tantamount to a death sentence,” the family said, adding, “Particularly for such a trivial and dubious crime, a crime Jim was not even aware of when he perpetrated it.”

The family, which said that the news of Fitton’s imprisonment has ‘absolutely shattered’ them and left them heartbroken, urged the government to help free him. “We are raising an appeal and will continue to fight for Jim’s freedom, and urge the government to support us in every way possible and to open lines of communication with us at a senior level,” the family of the British Geologist was quoted as saying by BBC News.

According to reports, Fitton was arrested at Baghdad airport on March 20 along with a German national Volker Waldmann. The duo had been part of a tourism expedition across Iraq’s ancient sites.

On arrival at the Baghdad airport, customs officers and witnesses said that Fitton’s bag had contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann was also accused of having two pieces in his bag, although he denied having them at the beginning of the trial on May 15.

When Fitton did not arrive on a scheduled trip back to Kuala Lumpur, where he resides with his wife, on March 20, his family became concerned. The family was subsequently informed that Fitton was transferred to an airport holding cell, where he was still being kept.

The court found Waldmann not to have criminal intent in the case and ordered his release but sentenced Fitton to 15 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Fitton’s lawyer, Soud, has stated that he plans to appeal Fitton’s sentence as soon as possible. It remains unclear though whether Fitton will be allowed to spend his jail term in his home country, which is a possibility because of the Iraq-UK prisoner transfer arrangement.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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