Thursday, December 8

Briton jailed in Iraq for smuggling antiquities to be freed, says lawyer | uknews

A retired British geologist is to be released from an Iraqi prison after his 15-year jail sentence for smuggling antiquities was quashed, according to his family and lawyer.

Jim Fitton, 66, was jailed after collecting 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu as part of an organized geology and archeology tour.

Iraqi officials claimed the items in the south-east of the country could be considered archaeological pieces as they date back more than 200 years.

Fitton’s lawyer, Thaer Saoud, told Agence France-Presse the conviction had been overturned by Iraq’s court of cassation, adding: “My client will soon be free.”

His family said they were “over the moon” after being told he has been cleared. His son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, from Bath in Somerset, said the family “expect him to be home by the end of the week” although the timeline remains unclear.

He said: “We were informed this morning that the appeals court has decided to quash the verdict of the felony court, to fully recognize Jim’s innocence in this case, and to process his immediate release from a 15-year prison sentence in Baghdad.

“We understand that this process is under way – he is still in prison this evening but will soon be released. We will not be doing any press interviews or elaborating at all about the situation until he is home, as we don’t want to inflame the wrong groups or put him at any risk.

“Once he is home, we will celebrate and take some time to recover as a family, and will be happy to tell the story to anyone who will listen.”

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Fitton, a father of two who lives in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah, has been in prison since 20 March when the artifacts were discovered by airport security staff at Baghdad airport.

He was found guilty in a Baghdad court under a 2002 Saddam Hussein-era law that legal experts should not have applied to the case. His co-accused of him, the German tourist Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.

The men said they had no idea that collecting items from Iraq was illegal and had not acted with criminal intent.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, welcomed the “fantastic development”, adding: “It is impossible to imagine the stress that Jim and his family have endured over the past few months.

“Jim and his family have shown incredible strength and should be extremely proud of the role they have played in pressing the government to act. This has been an incredibly anxious time and the government should consider how to improve the way they respond to these cases in the first instance.

“This is a testament to the hard work of the consulate team, Foreign Office officials and, of course, Jim’s family.”

More than 357,000 people signed an online petition calling for Fitton to be released following concerns that he would be sentenced to death.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said it was providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, continues to support his family and is in contact with the local authorities.

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