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February 27, 2024
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Ministers accused of abandoning UK geologist at risk of execution in Iraq – The Guardian

Family ‘baffled’ by Foreign Office after Jim Fitton arrested for taking pottery pieces from ancient site
The family of a British man who has been detained in Iraq for more than six weeks and faces execution for collecting fragments of pottery at an ancient site has accused British ministers of abandoning him, and expressed concern over the conditions he is being held in.
Jim Fitton, 66, who was on an organised geology and archaeology trip, was arrested at Baghdad airport as he tried to fly out. He was detained on suspicion of smuggling, after pieces of pottery he had been assured by guides were worthless were found in his luggage.
“We’re very fearful,” said Fitton’s son-in-law, Sam Tasker. “Iraqi law says if anyone is convicted of this crime, they are punishable by execution. Full stop. There’s no range or gradation of sentence, or any allowance for mitigating circumstances. By the letter of the law, if Jim is found guilty of what he is accused of, he will be executed.
“Jim is giving us a rose-tinted, stiff-upper-lip view of what he is going through. He doesn’t want us to worry about him. We understand from the embassy staff and our lawyer he is getting the basics, but nobody has elaborated on the conditions. We think that’s to spare us. He’s in a temporary holding cell at the airport and has been there for six weeks with another man.”
In occasional WhatsApp messages, Fitton has joked that he has learned how to clean toilets and is brushing up on his colloquial Arabic. “But it can’t be comfortable,” said Tasker.
Fitton, originally from Bath and now based in Malaysia, collected the fragments from a site in Eridu. His family insisted he was told they held no economic or cultural value, but he was arrested as he tried to leave and was expected to face trial within a few days.
Tasker said: “He’s got no criminal record. He’s a geologist jobbing around the world for 40 years. He’s a hugely experienced traveller, a wonderfully erudite man. He is the most multicultural, respectful man I’ve ever met. A crime involving devaluing the cultural history of another nation is the last thing Jim would want to do.”
Tasker and Fitton’s children, Leila and Joshua, have launched a petition calling on the British government to intervene which has been signed by more than 100,000 people.
The Foreign Office minister, Amanda Milling, has written to the Bath Liberal Democrat MP, Wera Hobhouse, who is championing Fitton’s case, saying the government recognises the urgency of the case and has raised concerns with Iraq over the possible imposition of the death penalty.
But Tasker said more had to be done. “We need the politicians to step up. We’ve had as much support as we can get from the consular chaps on the ground. They have been visiting Jim, providing him with books to read, they’ve been compassionate. But we still haven’t had any engagement whatsoever from anyone with a decision-making power in the Foreign Office. Neither [Foreign Office ministers] James Cleverly, Amanda Milling, nor the foreign secretary [Liz Truss] have been in touch.
“We’re asking for something quite minimal. Our lawyer in Iraq has put together a proposal he wants to put to the director of public prosecutions [DPP] in Iraq. The proposal says that because of mitigating circumstances, because there was no criminal intent here, it was an honest mistake and because of Britain’s relationship with Iraq, the case should be moved to the court of cassation in Iraq.
“We’ve had a crash course in Iraqi law. My understanding is that it allows for the case to be closed before it goes to sentencing and Jim would be released and allowed home. We’re asking for the Foreign Office to help us to arrange a meeting between our lawyer and the DPP in Iraq.”
Tasker said he was “baffled” at the lack of engagement from the Foreign Office. “One of the Foreign Office’s roles is to look after British citizens who get into trouble. It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Tasker and Leila Fitton are in Malaysia for celebrations to mark their marriage, which took place in Bath last summer.
Hobhouse said Jim Fitton should be there. “Instead he is awaiting trial in Iraq. It is an absolute travesty for Jim and his family that the Foreign Office has refused to get involved despite the family’s lawyer advising that an intervention would make a difference in this case. This is a life-or-death situation.”
The Foreign Office has been asked to comment.
This article was amended on 5 May 2022. An earlier version named Dominic Raab as the foreign secretary; he was Liz Truss’s predecessor.


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