According to his Baghdad lawyer, a British national charged by Iraq of taking minor archaeological remains will be prosecuted next week on accusations that could lead to execution.
Jim Fitton, a retired geologist, was arrested at the Baghdad airport in March after Iraqi customs officers discovered him in possession of ceramic fragments from an ancient site in southern Iraq. He was accompanied by a German citizen who was also prosecuted, but the details of his case have not been made public.
Fitton will go on trial before Iraq’s Felony Court on Sunday, according to his lawyer, Thair Soud.
The charges against him are based on Iraq’s murky antiquities laws, which carry the death penalty. Fitton’s legal team, as well as a British official following the case, believe that this outcome is unlikely.
Soud will have to show a panel of judges that Fitton had no criminal intent when he picked up fragments of pottery strewn across the desert terrain while on a tourism expedition to Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian site in what is now Dhi Qar province. Iraqi authorities discovered 12 fragments of pottery and other shards in Fitton’s possession.
Soud had written a motion under Iraqi law to have the case terminated before a trial because it could jeopardize Iraq’s national interests. Although tourism is still a developing industry in the country, the government last year introduced visas on arrival to encourage international travelers to explore the country’s many archaeological sites.
With almost 100,000 signatures, Fitton’s family has petitioned the British Foreign Office to support Soud in submitting his application to Iraq’s public prosecutor. Fitton was unable to attend his daughter Leila Fitton’s wedding in Malaysia last Sunday. She described his absence as “heartbreaking.”
Concerns were raised shortly after Fitton’s detention when Shiite militia groups posted his passport data on social media, accusing the British government of interfering with Iraqi legal procedures.