British man found with old shards in Iraq to stand trial

A British subject accused by Iraq of collecting small archaeological fragments will face charges next week on charges potentially punishable by death, his lawyer in Baghdad said Wednesday.

Retired geologist Jim Fitton, 66, was arrested at Baghdad airport in March after Iraqi customs officials found him in possession of pottery fragments from an ancient site in southern Iraq.

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A German citizen accompanying him was also charged, but details of his case have not been made public.

Fitton will face Iraqi crimes court this Sunday, his lawyer, Thair Soud, told The Associated Press.

The charges against him are based on Iraq’s opaque antiquities laws and are punishable by death. However, Fitton’s legal team and a UK official following the case have said they believe this outcome is unlikely.

At trial, Soud will have to prove to a jury that Fitton had no criminal intent when he picked up shards of pottery found scattered across the desert landscape during a tourist expedition to Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian site in what is now Dhi Qar Province.

In total, 12 fragments of pottery and other shards were found in Fitton’s possession by Iraqi authorities.

Soud had drafted a proposal under Iraqi law to close the case before a trial, as doing so could harm Iraq’s national interests.

Tourism is an emerging industry in the country, but the government introduced visas on arrival last year to encourage international visitors to explore the many archaeological sites.

Fitton’s family has filed a petition with the British Foreign Office to help Soud submit his proposal to the Iraqi prosecutor, collecting more than 100,000 signatures.

Fitton missed his daughter Leila Fitton’s wedding in Malaysia, which took place last Sunday. She said she was “heartbroken” by his absence.

Concerns grew shortly after Fitton’s arrest when extremist groups posted social media posts with his passport details, accusing the British government of attempting to intervene in Iraqi judicial proceedings.

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