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MPs feel heat from Somerset geologist who faces death penalty in Iraq for smuggling broken pottery Bath City News

Ministers are under increasing pressure to help free a retired British geologist who faces the death penalty in Iraq over smuggling allegations. A petition calling for the release of father-of-two Jim Fitton, 66, received more than 97,000 signatures in the three days since it was launched.

Her daughter Leila and her husband Sam Tasker, from Bath, also revealed that this month’s sentencing is set to coincide with a celebration of their long-planned wedding. They said: “There’s never a good time for something like this to happen, but we’re a week away from what should be the happiest day of our lives, and the culmination of more than two years of planning, and it turned into an absolute living nightmare.

“We have accepted that, without timely intervention from the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Jim will not be able to attend this ceremony either.”

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Mr Fitton was detained in Iraq for five weeks after being accused of trying to smuggle historical artifacts out of the country. His family said Mr Fitton had collected stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the south-east of the country, as part of an organized geology and of archaeology.

But they added that the objects were considered artefacts under Iraqi law and that the charge against Mr Fitton states that “anyone who has exported or intended to export, willfully, an antiquity, of Iraq, shall be liable to execution”. His case in relation to the March incident is expected to go to sentencing the week of May 8.

Mr Fitton’s family called the response to the petition “incredible”, adding in a statement: “Jim truly appreciates the support of former colleagues, good friends, kindred spirits and complete strangers who don’t did not let this go unnoticed.
“We will continue to fight while we continue to have you behind our backs.”

Mr Fitton has worked as a geologist for oil and gas companies during his career and lives in his adopted home in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah. Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, raised her case with ministers in the House of Commons.

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The family said their lawyer had drafted a proposal under Iraqi law for the case to be dismissed before trial, but they need the Foreign Ministry to “support the plan and approve it” so that they can get a high-level meeting with judicial officials in the country.

The proposal cites “the conspicuous absence of criminality, Jim being the victim of misdirection and circumstance, and also cites the huge investment the UK has made in the Iraqi government and judicial framework through funding of the FCDO in recent years”.

The family’s statement, via an update on the petition’s website, also explained, “Leila has not seen Jim in over two years due to Covid travel restrictions. We had a small Covid wedding ceremony in Bath in August last year for close friends and our British family members, mainly on my side. Since then, we are planning a bigger celebration in Malaysia with all of Leila’s extended family.

“It’s scheduled for May 8. Obviously, there’s never a good time for something like this to happen, but we’re a week away from what should be the best day of our lives, and l culmination of over two years of planning, and it has been turned into an absolute living nightmare.

Ms Hobhouse said: ‘It’s impossible to imagine what Jim and his family are going through, especially as Sam and Leila are planning their wedding. We urge the Department of Foreign Affairs to intervene, but unfortunately they continue to refuse.

“I don’t understand why the Foreign Office is not stepping in when Jim’s life is at stake. The Foreign Office must do everything in their power to bring Jim back to his family.”

The Foreign Office said it was providing consular support and was in contact with local authorities.

Foreign Secretary Amanda Milling, in a letter to Ms Hobhouse, said last week: ‘We understand the urgency of the matter and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities over the possible imposition of the death penalty in the case of Mr Fitton and the United Kingdom’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances is a matter of principle.

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This notice was published: 2022-05-02 18:05:11

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