LONDON: The UK government is being urged to secure the release of a Briton accused of smuggling artifacts in Iraq.
Jim Fitton, 66, has been detained in Iraq for five weeks and is awaiting sentencing beginning May 8.
Iraqi law carries the death penalty for “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity.”
Fitton’s family said that the father-of-two, who worked as an oil and gas geologist before retiring to Malaysia, had traveled to Iraq for an archaeological tour.
He visited the ancient site of Eridu as part of an organized tour and, while there, collected stones and shards from the ground.
His daughter Leila and her husband Sam Tasker said that Fitton’s sentencing was due to happen during their wedding celebrations.
They said: “There is never a good time for something like this to happen, but we are one week away from what should be the happiest day of our lives and the culmination of more than two years of planning, and it’s been turned into an absolute living nightmare.
“We have accepted the fact that, without timely intervention from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, Jim will be unable to attend this ceremony, too.”
UK MP Wera Hobhouse raised concerns in the House of Commons over Fitton’s case.
The minister of state for Asia and the Middle East, Amanda Milling, said in response last week: “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 Mr. Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”
Fitton’s family lawyer is attempting to shut the case before trial through a draft proposal but said the FCDO must endorse the draft so a meeting with Iraqi judges could go ahead.
The proposal cited Fitton’s “clear lack of criminality” and argued that he was a “victim of poor guidance and circumstance.”
The FCDO said it was in contact with local authorities in Iraq and was providing consular support.
An online petition launched by Fitton’s family demanding his release has amassed almost 100,000 signatures since its launch on April 28.
Leila Fitton described the response as “unbelievable.”
She added: “Jim really appreciates the support from old colleagues, good friends, kindred spirits, and complete strangers who have not allowed this to go unnoticed. We will continue to fight while we continue to have you at our backs.”