LONDON: The UK government is lobbying for the release of a British archaeologist imprisoned in Iraq, it was revealed on Thursday.
Jim Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June for attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country, a crime that can also carry the death sentence.
Fitton’s family has criticized the British government for what it calls a poor response to the case, however UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told ITV News that work was being carried out to convince the Iraqi government to release the archaeologist.
“I know our ambassador is working on that, as is our ministerial team,” she said. “Ultimately this is a decision for the Iraqi authorities, but we’re doing all we can to secure this release.”
Fitton was found by Iraqi officials with a dozen small stones and bits of pottery from the desert on March 20, and was arrested as he tried to leave the country.
He asserted in his defense that he believed the items to be worthless and was merely taking them as a memento of his trip to Iraq.
In court, he was charged and convicted — but another man also on trial with him, German national Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.
Fitton has appealed in a bid to reduce his sentence or have his conviction quashed completely.
Fitton’s local member of parliament, Wera Hobhouse, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should have taken a stronger stance with Iraq to ensure his release.
“It seems that German officials took a much tougher stance and intervened a lot earlier, and were much more visible in their opposition, versus the Foreign Office (who) took the approach of softly, softly,” she told ITV.
“We have got two outcomes: One prisoner is now free, and Jim Fitton, our British citizen, is not free.
“So there’s quite a clear contrast, which makes one wonder whether the Foreign Office approach has been correct,” she added.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, and continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.”