Brit jailed in Iraq for antiquities smuggling to be released, lawyer says

A retired British geologist will be freed from an Iraqi prison after his 15-year prison sentence for antiquities smuggling was overturned, his family and lawyer say.

Jim Fitton, 66, was jailed after collecting 12 stones and fragments of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu as part of an organized geology and archeology tour.

Iraqi officials claimed that the items in the southeast of the country could be considered archaeological pieces, as they date back more than 200 years.

Fitton’s lawyer, Thaer Saoud, told Agence France-Presse that the conviction had been overturned by Iraq’s court of cassation, adding: “My client will soon be free.”

His family said they were “over the moon” after being told he had been sacked. His son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, from Bath in Somerset, said the family “hope he’ll be home by the end of the week”, although the timeline is still unclear.

He said: “This morning we have been informed that the Court of Appeal has decided to overturn the verdict of the Criminal Court, fully recognize Jim’s innocence in this case and proceed with his immediate release from a conviction of 15 years in prison in Baghdad.

“We understand this process is ongoing – he is still in jail tonight but will be out soon. We will not be doing press interviews or detailing the situation until he is home as we do not want to inflame the wrong groups or put him in no risk

“Once he’s home, we’ll celebrate and take some time to recover as a family, and we’ll be happy to tell the story to anyone who will listen.”

Fitton, a father of two who lives in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah, has been in jail since March 20, when airport security personnel discovered the artifacts at Baghdad airport.

He was found guilty in a Baghdad court under a 2002 Saddam Hussein-era law that legal experts should not have applied to the case. His co-accused, German tourist Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.

The men said they had no idea collecting items from Iraq was illegal and had not acted with criminal intent.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, welcomed the “fantastic development”, adding: “It is impossible to imagine the stress that Jim and his family have been under over the last few months.

“Jim and his family have shown incredible strength and should be extremely proud of the role they have played in pressuring the government to act. This has been an incredibly anxious time and the government should consider how to improve the way respond to these cases in the first instance.

“This is testament to the hard work of the consulate team, Foreign Office officials and of course Jim’s family.”

More than 357,000 people signed an online petition calling for Fitton to be released amid fears he would be sentenced to death.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was providing consular assistance to a Briton in Iraq, was continuing to support his family and was in contact with local authorities.

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