A British man is at risk of facing the death penalty in Iraq after being accused of attempting to smuggle historic artefacts, his family have said.
Retired geologist Jim Fitton, 66, has been detained in Iraq on allegations of smuggling after he visited the country for a geology and archeology tour.
His children Joshua and Leila, and Lelia’s husband Sam Tasker, are now urging the UK government to intervene.
The family have launched a petition calling on the UK government to act, with it reading: “Whilst on the tour, our father visited historical sites around Iraq, where his tour group found fragments of stones and shards of broken pottery in piles on the ground.
“These fragments were in the open, unguarded and with no signage warning against removal. Tour leaders also collected the shards as souvenirs at the site in Eridu.
"Tour members were told that this would not be an issue, as the broken shards had no economic or historical value.”
It added: “We think that our father may be put on trial the week commencing May 8, after Eid in Iraq.
“We have days to save him before sentencing and we need the Foreign Office to help by intervening in his case now. Our lawyer has drafted a proposal for cessation of the case and the immediate repatriation of our father, which requires the backing of the Foreign Office to put to the Iraqi judiciary.”
In a statement, son-in-law Tasker, said: “Jim would often bring home small souvenirs from his trips to remember the journey by and share his experiences with us.
“To him this was no more significant than bringing home a small stone from the beach to remember a special family holiday. The items are widely agreed to be valueless.
“This is the offence that now sees my father-in-law facing a potential death sentence under article 41 of the Iraqi artefacts law no.55, of 2002.”
The family say Fitton and a German man on the same trip was arrested after their luggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards removed from his bags.
Fitton lives in Malaysia, but his son-in-law has called on his local MP Wera Hobhouse who has raised the case in the House of Commons.
She said: “The situation surrounding Jim Fitton and his German counterpart is deeply worrying and my thoughts are with them and their families during this difficult period. It is impossible to imagine the concern and worry that Jim and his family are going through.
“From speaking with Jim’s family it is clear that he would not intentionally disrespect or appropriate the rich and fascinating culture of the region.
“I have written to the Foreign Office, been in touch with the consulate support services, and contacted the minister’s office directly but so far the response has been disappointing.
“Jim’s lawyer has advised that an intervention from the British Government will make a difference in this case. That is why I am urging the Government to intervene to make Jim’s release more likely.
“I am committed to doing everything I can by working with the Government to secure the release of Jim who has been so questionably detained in Iraq. Jim and his German counterpart must be returned safely home to their families.”
You can sign the petition here.
Featured Image Credit: PA/Change.org
Topics: UK News