BAGHDAD, May 2 — A British man arrested at Baghdad airport in late March in possession of pottery fragments that are alleged to be historical artefacts is being held in pre-trial detention, his family said Sunday.
Jim Fitton, a 66-year-old retired geologist, could face the death penalty under Iraqi law if convicted, his family has said in a petition on the Change.org online platform, calling for his release.
“He has been imprisoned for allegedly attempting to smuggle historical artefacts out of Iraq,” the petition said.
His son-in-law Sam Tasker told AFP that “it is clearly a mistake, there is clearly no criminal intent.”
“He is an elderly chap. We just want him home safe and sound,” Tasker said Sunday.
Fitton arrived in Iraq on an organised tour on March 5.
He was supposed to depart on March 20 to return home to Malaysia.
But airport customs officers found fragments he had picked up at the Eridu archaeological site in southern Iraq, his family said.
The tour guides had told his father-in-law that the broken “shards of pottery and stones” had no economic or historical value and gave him the green light to take some home as a souvenir, Tasker told AFP.
A security source at Baghdad airport told AFP that Fitton was “the subject of an investigation” and would not be tried before its conclusion.
Proceedings could be delayed until after May 8 due to the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Laith Majid Hussein, director of the Iraqi council of antiquities and heritage, told AFP that Fitton was arrested in possession of “various pieces from archaeological sites”.
A spokesperson for the British embassy in Baghdad said it was providing “consular support to a British national in Iraq” and was “in contact with the local authorities”.
Tasker said the family exchanged WhatsApp messages daily with Fitton, who he said had been in an airport holding cell for “nearly six weeks”.
Despite its almost non-existent tourism infrastructure, Iraq has been slowly re-opening to international visitors after multiple conflicts.
Most Western governments still issue travel warnings for all or parts of Iraq, pointing to risks ranging from kidnappings to jihadist bombings and unexploded ordnance.
“We would like to warn all potential tourists to Iraq that this can happen with no warning. Jim is a very experienced traveller and this still happened to him,” Tasker said. — AFP