British geologist sentenced to 15 years in Iraq for smuggling artifacts

Jim Fitton, 66, collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from the historically famous "Eridu" archaeological site in southern Iraq.

 Iraqi policemen escort Jim Fitton from Britain and Volker Waldmann from Germany in handcuffs, who are suspected of smuggling ancient artefacts out of Iraq, outside a court in Baghdad, Iraq, May 22, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)
Iraqi policemen escort Jim Fitton from Britain and Volker Waldmann from Germany in handcuffs, who are suspected of smuggling ancient artefacts out of Iraq, outside a court in Baghdad, Iraq, May 22, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)

Bath, England resident Jim Fitton was sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence in an Iraqi prison for attempting to smuggle artifacts out of Iraq, British media reports.

Fitton, 66, collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from the historically famous "Eridu" archaeological site in southern Iraq. He was arrested last March, alongside his German tourist Volker Waldmann, who was arrested on the same charges.

Fitton has insisted that he did not know he was breaking Iraqi laws, while his family said they were "absolutely shattered" and "heartbroken" by the news.

A shocking ruling

"I thought the worst-case scenario would be one year, with suspension," Fitton's lawyer, Thair Soud, said.

 Iraqi policemen escort Jim Fitton from Britain and Volker Waldmann from Germany in handcuffs, who are suspected of smuggling ancient artefacts out of Iraq, outside a court in Baghdad, Iraq, May 22, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI) Iraqi policemen escort Jim Fitton from Britain and Volker Waldmann from Germany in handcuffs, who are suspected of smuggling ancient artefacts out of Iraq, outside a court in Baghdad, Iraq, May 22, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)

Waldmann, who was arrested for the same infraction and actually had ten of the twelve artifacts in his possession at the time of arrest (Fitton had two) was acquitted of the charges and is set to be released. 

The maximum sentence for removing artifacts is the death penalty, though the judge said he decided to reduce the sentence "because of the advanced age of the accused.”

"For a man of Jim's age, 15 years in an Iraqi prison is tantamount to a death sentence," said Fitton’s son-in-law. "We are raising an appeal and will continue to fight for Jim's freedom, and urge the government to support us in every way possible and to open lines of communication with us at a senior level," he added.

For a man of Jim's age, 15 years in an Iraqi prison is tantamount to a death sentence

Fitton’s son-in-law

Attempts to help

The Foreign Office has previously said it cannot interfere with the judicial process of another country, though Bath MP Wera Hobhouse said the sentence was "a devastating outcome for Jim and his family… there is now no other option but for the Foreign Secretary to intervene at a ministerial level."

A petition on change.org calling for his release has reached nearly 300,000 signatures in just over one month. “Please help free our father. He is a retired geologist and a loving family man, not a criminal. The foreign office needs to do everything they can to save his life and bring him home,” the petition declares.