Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

UK Tourist Sentenced to 15 Years' Jail in Iraq for Theft of Artefacts

Wed 08 Jun 2022 | 10:01 AM
Ahmad El-Assasy

For attempting to smuggle archaeological antiquities out of Iraq, a 66-year-old British Tourist was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

However, retired geologist James Fitton said that the location he visited was open and unprotected and that he was unaware of the rule that made stealing the stones and pottery shards he collected illegal.

Fitton reportedly traveled to Iraq in March 2022 with a British group of tourists, according to the New York Times. They went to Eridu, a Sumerian archaeological site in southern Iraq.

Fitton collected stones and fragments of pottery to retain as keepsakes while touring Eridu, which, like many of Iraq's dig sites, is unexcavated and unattended.

When airport security spotted 12 stones and pottery shards in Fitton's luggage as he was about to board a jet out of Iraq, he was arrested.

Stealing artworks or antiquities is prohibited by a 2002 statute, which carries a punishment of seven to fifteen years in prison.

Using weapons or other persons to "loot" antiques is punishable by death.

Fitton intends to challenge the sentence in court. Thair Soud, Fitton's defence lawyer, pointed out that Fitton had made no attempt to hide the shards, instead wrapping them in tissue paper and stuffing them into his luggage.

Soud went on to say that he was "very astonished" by the sentence's severity and that the shards had no commercial worth.

CNN reported in August 2021 that the US had returned 17,000 smuggled artefacts to Iraq after they were discovered on the open market.

Iraq's foreign minister, Fuad Hussein, stated at the time that the Iraqi government would "make every effort" to retrieve its cultural heritage.

According to the New York Times, Iraq's cultural minister, Hassan Nadhem, claimed the government had no role in Fitton's sentence but backed legal action against anyone seeking to "steal and transport" antiques.

Fitton's son-in-law, James Tasker, told the BBC that the sentence was "unjust" and that Fitton was focused on ensuring that his wife and family, who live in Malaysia, had enough money.