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Featured Image Credit: PA Handout
A court in Iraq has sentenced Jim Fitton to 15 years in prison for smuggling artefacts out of the country.
The retired geologist, who lives in Malaysia, was detained in Iraq earlier this year on allegations of smuggling following a visit for a geology and archeology tour.
The sentence was handed down in a Baghdad court, with Mr Fitton's lawyer, Thair Soud, visibly shocked.
Following the verdict, he told the Associated Press: "I thought the worst case scenario would be one year, with suspension."
Mr Fitton's family said he and a German national, Volker Waldman, were arrested at Baghdad Airport on 20 March after their luggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards removed from his bags.
Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that by picking up the items, which dated older than 200 years according to a technical government investigation, and intending to transport them out of the country, Mr Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle them.
However, Mr Waldman, who was tried with Mr Fitton, was found not to have acted with any criminal intent in the case and will be released.
Speaking about the charges earlier this year, Mr Fitton's 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."
His family recently set up a petition, which reached over 288,000 signatures, urging the UK government to intervene.
It said: "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."