Who is British geologist jailed in Iraq? Why has Jim Fitton been sent to prison and how long is his sentence

Jim Fitton’s family have a petition on change.org which has already gathered nearly 300,000 signatures

British geologist Jim Fitton has been sentenced to 15 years in an Iraqi prison after being convicted of smuggling antiquities.

The 66-year-old, who was visiting Iraq on an archeological tourist holiday, was found to be in possession of 12 stones and shards of pottery.

The verdict and sentence shocked the court and his Iraqi lawyers.

Fitton’s family have maintained that he had no criminal intent and did not know that taking the items was a crime.

A petition they set up on change.org has already gathered nearly 300,000 signatures.

A German man tried with Fitton for the same crime, was found not guilty and will be released.

Here’s everything you need to know about Jim Fitton and what he has been convicted of.

Who is Jim Fitton?

Jim Fitton is a 66-year-old retired geologist from Bath.

British geologist Jim Fitton arrives at a courthouse in the Iraqi capital Baghdad (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

He was visiting Iraq as a tourist on a tour of the country’s archeological sites.

Fitton was arrested at Baghdad airport on 22 March alongside German national Volker Waldmann.

He stated that he took the items as souvenirs whilst visiting a site in Eridu, in south east Iraq.

Why has Jim Fitton been sent to prison in Iraq?

Fitton has been found guilty of smuggling antiquities out of Iraq and handed down a prison sentence of 15 years.

According to customs officials when he was apprehended at Baghdad airport he was in possession of 12 stones and shards of pottery.

Waldmann was arrested after being found in possession of two shards of pottery.

Fitton argued that he did not know he was doing anything illegal and the stones and pieces of ceramics were collected for a personal “hobby.”

Waldmann denied that the shards were his and has been found not guilty and is set to be released.

The maximum sentence for the crime of smuggling antiquities is the death penalty.

What law has he broken?

Fitton was charged under a law from 2002 which prohibits anyone from "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity".

The shards which are more than 200 years old have been classed as archaeological pieces by Iraqi officials.

Iraq has seen tens of thousands of its antiquities looted since the Iraq war in 2003.

Smuggling remains rife in the country, which also saw many valuable historic items destroyed or looted during the war with Islamic State.

USA returns over 17,000 confiscated archaeological items to Iraq (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

In 2021, the USA returned over 17,000 historic items it had confiscated to Iraq.

What have his lawyers said?

Fitton’s lawyer was shocked by the sentence.

After the verdict Thair Soud said: "I thought the worst case scenario would be one year, with suspension."

Soud has vowed he will appeal the decision and said in a statement that: “The court’s decision was not proper for two reasons.

“The first is because it did not apply the law [correctly], and secondly because of the severity of the punishment.

“My client does not deserve this punishment. The antiques that were found with him were stones and pieces of broken pottery that had no material, or archaeological, value.”

What has his family said?

The judge said that he gave a reduced sentence "because of the advanced age of the accused."

But when speaking his family have cited it as “tantamount to a death sentence.”

Speaking to ITV News his daughter Leila said: “I couldn’t believe it. I think we’re still shell shocked.

"This is the worst time in our lives."

A petition which she set up on Change.org already has nearly 300,000 signatures.

His son-in-law, Sam Tasker expressed the shock felt by the family at this time.

Tasker said: “It is just completely mind blowing that this verdict could be passed when the judge himself accepted that Jim did not have any criminal intent. It beggars belief that this sentence has been passed.”

The family have urged the British government to “to support us in every way possible and to open lines of communication with us at a senior level.”

What is the British government doing?

The Foreign Office has previously said it is not able to get involved with another country’s judicial process.

However, Fitton’s local MP, Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse has called on the foreign to intervene.

Hobhouse said: “Now the foreign secretary must step up to intervene and there must be a root and branch review into how cases like Jim’s are dealt with in the future.

“The government has ignored the family’s pleas to intervene. The ministers have failed to engage with Jim’s family and they have set a dangerous precedent for British citizens who are in trouble abroad.”