A retired British geologist is facing the death penalty in Iraq after being arrested at the airport for broken pottery shards, according to his family.
Jim Fitton is due to stand trial in May on charges of trying to smuggle historical artifacts out of the country, they said.
The 66-year-old had collected broken pottery shards, after being assured they were worthless, on a visit to a historic site, according to a petition asking the UK government to help facilitate his release.
The retired geologist, who lives in Malaysia, was arrested while trying to fly home from his geology and archeology tour in Iraq earlier this year.
“The legal punishment for his alleged crime is execution,” his family said.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP representing family members in Bath, said Fitton’s case was “deeply worrying” and urged the British government to intervene.
The British detainee’s children, Joshua and Leila, and Leila’s husband, Sam Tasker, launched the petition asking for the same thing.
“During the tour, our father visited historical sites in Iraq, where his tour group found stone fragments and broken pottery shards in heaps on the ground,” he said.
“These fragments were out in the open, without protection and without signs warning that they should not be removed.
“The tour leaders also collected the fragments as souvenirs at the site in Eridu. Tour members were told this would not be a problem as the broken fragments had no financial or historical value.”
He added: “We believe that our father may stand trial the week beginning May 8, after Eid in Iraq.
“We have days to save him before sentencing and we need the Foreign Office to help intervene in his case now.
“Our lawyer has drafted a proposal for the cessation of the case and the immediate repatriation of our father, which requires the support of the Foreign Office to present it to the Iraqi judiciary.”
Tasker, in a statement, explained: “Jim would often bring home little souvenirs from his travels to remember the trip and share his experiences with us.
“To him, this was no more meaningful than bringing home a small pebble from the beach to remember a special family vacation. It is widely accepted that items are worthless.
“This is the crime for which my father-in-law now faces a possible death sentence under section 41 of the Iraqi Artifacts Act No. 55 of 2002.”
Tasker said Fitton and a German man on the trip were arrested after the group’s luggage was searched at the airport, and 12 pieces of their luggage are said to have been recovered.
The incident took place on March 20 and a serious illness of the group’s tour guide was also reported.
Tasker is a Hobhouse constituent who raised the case in the House of Commons and urged ministers to respond to the “incredibly serious” problem.
“The situation surrounding Jim Fitton and his German counterpart is deeply worrying and my thoughts are with them and their families during this difficult period. It is impossible to imagine the worry and worry Jim and his family are going through,” he said.
“In speaking with Jim’s family, it is clear that he would not intentionally disrespect or appropriate the rich and fascinating culture of the region.
“I have written to the Foreign Office, contacted consular support services and contacted the minister’s office directly, but so far the response has been disappointing.
“Jim’s lawyer has warned that an intervention by the British government will make a difference in this case. That is why I urge the government to intervene to make Jim’s release more likely.
“I am committed to doing everything I can to work with the government to secure the release of Jim, who has been so questionably detained in Iraq. Jim and his German counterpart must return safely home to their families.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are providing consular support to a British national in Iraq and are in contact with local authorities.”
Foreign Minister Amanda Milling said in a letter to Ms. Hobhouse on Thursday: “We understand the urgency of the case and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in the case of Mr. Fitton and the UK opposition. to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”
Additional report by PA