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British vacationer’s 15-year jail sentence for antiquities smuggling overturned by Iraqi appeals court docket

After spending six and a half weeks in Baghdad’s infamous Rusafa jail on fees of antiquities smuggling, retired British geologist James Fitton will quickly be a free man.

An announcement launched by his household as we speak (26 July) mentioned, “We had been knowledgeable this morning that the appeals court docket has determined to quash the decision of the Felony Court docket, to totally recognise Jim’s innocence on this case, and to course of his instant launch from a 15-year jail sentence in Baghdad.”

The 66-year-old retired geologist was charged beneath a 2002 regulation enacted throughout the regime of Saddam Hussein to assist stem rampant antiquities smuggling—fees that might have resulted in a dying sentence. His alleged crime was taking what his daughter Leila Fitton referred to as “just a few nugatory items of damaged pottery” from the traditional website of Eridu within the south of Iraq.

He apparently collected the shards with the blessing of his tour information, Geoff Hann—who later died in police custody in hospital—and beneath the gaze of representatives from the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and native police.

In response to Fitton’s lawyer Thair Soud, Hann, a girl from South Africa who was his assistant and German nationwide Volker Waldman, who was a part of their tour, additionally had shards of their possession. Because of an error by customs officers on the airport, the South African girl was allowed to fly dwelling. Waldmann was charged however then launched, in accordance with Soud, as a result of he instructed authorities that Fitton had given him two of the stones from Eridu. Fitton was initially charged, his lawyer says, as a result of he instantly admitted to having taken the shards from the desert ground of the location as souvenirs.

Soud claims he received the attraction for his consumer by mentioning inconsistencies and errors within the consideration of proof and software of regulation.

“The stones had been out within the open and nonetheless at the moment are,” he says. “They weren’t fenced and there have been no guards. So the primary impression my consumer had was that they had been ineffective stones. In any other case, they’d have been a goal for thieves and the federal government would have put them in a museum.” He provides, “The folks from the Ministry of Tourism accompanying the tour didn’t warn them to not take the stones—as a result of they had been in actual fact nugatory shards.”

Soud says the felony court docket based mostly its verdict on a “mistake within the software of the regulation”, basing it solely on conduct—Fitton’s admission that he took the stones—and never on his “clear lack of felony intent”, evidenced, he says, by the truth that his consumer by no means made any try to hide the souvenirs he was taking dwelling. They had been discovered wrapped in tissue in Fitton’s shaving package.

Soud says he additionally requested the appeals court docket, “The place are these shards that had been confiscated from my consumer that SBAH deemed to be worthwhile antiquities? Are they in a museum? In the event that they’re there, then why had been they and nonetheless are omitted within the open? In the event that they’re within the rubbish, then why cost an harmless particular person?”

As of press time, SBAH had not responded to a request for remark.

There is no such thing as a clear launch date for Fitton, who remains to be within the common inhabitants of Rusafa jail, dwelling to Islamic State members and others. “It’s a matter of paperwork however we hope it won’t take lengthy as my consumer has suffered rather a lot,” Soud says.

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