British man sentenced to 15 years in Iraq for smuggling artifacts

A British citizen was sentenced Monday by an Iraqi court docket to 15 years in jail after being convicted of making an attempt to smuggle artifacts in a foreign country, in a case that has attracted worldwide consideration.

The verdict handed down to retired geologist Jim Fitton, shocked the court docket in Baghdad, together with his protection lawyer. He and his household have argued that Fitton, 66, had no legal intent.

“I believed the worst case situation can be one 12 months, with suspension,” Fitton’s lawyer Thair Soud, visibly shocked, advised The Associated Press.

Soud mentioned Fitton would attraction the decision.

A German nationwide tried with Fitton was discovered not to have had legal intent in the case and will likely be launched.

Judge Jabir Abd Jabir discovered that, in accordance to the federal government’s investigation, Fitton had legal intent to smuggle the artifacts that he had picked up and supposed to transport them in a foreign country.

The trial has grabbed worldwide consideration at a time when Iraq seeks to open up its nascent tourism sector.

The two males first appeared in court docket on May 15 carrying yellow detainees’ uniforms, telling judges that they had not acted with legal intent and had no thought they may have damaged native legal guidelines.

Fitton mentioned he “suspected” the gadgets he collected had been historic fragments, however that “on the time I didn’t find out about Iraqi legal guidelines,” or that taking the shards was not permitted. Fitton mentioned as a geologist he was in the behavior of amassing such fragments as a interest and had no intention to promote them.

In his protection, Soud mentioned Fitton waited for weeks whereas in custody earlier than hiring him as his authorized counsel, arguing that this makes the purpose that the Briton had no thought of the severity of the case or the worth of the products discovered in his possession.

The choose, nonetheless, didn’t take into account Soud’s arguments that laid out Fitton’s ignorance of Iraqi legal guidelines and the worth of the gadgets he picked up. Fitton and the German nationwide, Volker Waldman, had been arrested at Baghdad’s airport on March 20 after airport safety found the gadgets in their baggage. They had been a part of a tourism expedition across the nation’s historic websites.

Their tour information, additionally a British citizen who was in his 80s and in poor well being, died in police custody for causes unrelated to his detention. He was discovered with over 20 archaeological fragments in this possession.

Fitton’s household grew apprehensive when he didn’t arrive on a scheduled flight again to Kuala Lumpur, the place he resides together with his spouse, on March 20. They later discovered that Fitton, a well-traveled geologist for oil and gasoline firms, had been taken to an airport holding cell the place he was nonetheless being detained, Fitton’s daughter Leila advised the AP final month.

Frustrated by perceived inaction on the a part of the British Foreign Office to intervene and help in Fitton’s case, his household began a petition that has garnered over 100,000 signatures. The British diplomatic mission in Baghdad has not commented on its involvement in the case and the British consul in Iraq, who attended the court docket session Monday, left following the sentencing with out making any feedback.

In complete, 12 fragments of pottery and different shards had been discovered in Fitton’s possession by Iraqi authorities, all of them collected as souvenirs, Fitton’s household says, throughout a gaggle tourism expedition to Eridu, an historic Mesopotamian website in what’s now Dhi Qar province. The website is claimed to be among the many oldest websites belonging to that civilization.

Controversy, nonetheless, stays concerning the gadgets that Fitton had picked up.

A report by the Iraqi Culture Ministry said they had been over 200 years outdated, with out providing any additional rationalization about their provenance. But any merchandise lower than 1,500 years outdated disqualifies it from being from antiquity, a interval from the beginnings of Western civilization to about 450 A.D.

The trial has additionally divided Iraqi public opinion.

Some see the punishment as simply, saying Iraq has lengthy been a looting floor for invaders and foreigners with impunity. Others mentioned Iraq lacked correct website administration to inform vacationers of the legal guidelines.

“Eridu is a UNESCO world heritage website in Iraq and it requires a greater website administration plan,” mentioned Ali Makhzomy, the founding father of BilWeekend, a touring firm. “It is the Iraqi authorities’s accountability to do this.”

The gadgets weren’t proven in court docket. Amir Abdul Razaq, an archaeologist in the southern province of Nassriyah, mentioned he believed the gadgets in Fitton’s possession dated again to 1,800 B.C. after AP shared pictures of the shards shared by his household. Government officers couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.

Waldman’s protection staff has mentioned the German vacationer had been carrying two items for Fitton however that he didn’t choose them up from the positioning. Both males had been charged with smuggling primarily based on the nation’s antiquities legal guidelines, and will have probably confronted the dying penalty. (*15*), officers had mentioned that was solely a distant chance.

It wasn’t clear if Fitton can serve out his sentence in his residence nation. In 2017, Iraq signed a prisoner swap settlement with the U.Ok.


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