An Iraqi court has overturned the conviction of a British tourist who was imprisoned for stealing ancient artifacts from an archaeological site.
The tourist, James Fitton, a 66-year-old retired geologist, was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison and held for more than four months. Looting antiques with weapons or other people is a crime punishable by death in Iraq.
mr. Fitton was arrested in late March after airport security confiscated 22 pottery and stones found in his luggage as he left the country.
He admitted in court that he had picked up the artifacts while on a tour of the Sumerian city of Eridu to the south, stating that he did not know the act was punishable by law. Iraqi Criminal Court found him guilty in June or attempting to smuggle items overseas.
“We are celebrating a great victory – my client is free,” Tahir Sood said. Fitton’s lawyer stated this in an interview. He expected his client to be released within the next few days from Baghdad’s Tasfirat prison, where he has been held since June. 6. “We all breathed a sigh of relief. This is a victory for my client and the Iraqi judiciary,” he said.
According to the decision of the Iraqi Federal Court of Cassation on Tuesday provided by Mr. Sood, his client’s initial verdict was erroneously based on “insufficient evidence”, and Mr. Fitton will be released from prison “immediately, barring obstruction.”
The Iraqi Court of Cassation, in its decision, indicated that M. Fitton, who “entered Iraq as a tourist and legally”, picked up items that “were in fast and scattered places on the ground without supervision, and their appearance seemed to assumed that these were ordinary stones, not antiques.
mr. The court, which expressed surprise at the original verdict, said it defended its client’s case with a four-page memo outlining the criminal court’s errors.
mr. Fitton also wrapped the items in a paper napkin in his luggage, pointing out that “these were souvenirs, not treasures someone was trying to hide,” he said.
Another German tourist who traveled to the Fitton Group, Volker Waldmann, who was also found with two artifacts in his luggage, was acquitted in June after he claimed he was carrying the items for Mr Fitton. Fitton.
The severity of Mr. Fitton’s sentence drew immediate global attention in a country where looting is frequent, but crimes against Iraqis are rarely punished so severely. mr. The Court was greeted with an outpouring of support for his client on social media from Mr Fitton’s Friends and Family, as well as Iraqis, he said.
Over 350,000 people have signed an online petition organized by Mr. Fitton’s family demands his release.
“We were informed this morning that the Court of Appeal has decided to set aside the verdict of the Serious Crimes Court,” he said. Fitton’s son-in-law, Sam Tasker, wrote in petition page post on Wednesday. “Once he gets home, we will celebrate and take some time to get well as a family, and we will be happy to tell this story to anyone who will listen.”
“The burden on his family was very heavy,” Mr. The Court, adding that it maintains contact with them daily. mr. According to his lawyer, Fitton remained in good spirits.
“During his detention, my client remained calm and hopeful,” he said. said the Court, adding that Mr. Fitton’s living conditions in prison were good. According to him, his client never complained.
mr. Fitton is “a good man and will even be missed,” Mr. Fitton said. The court said, adding that his client managed to earn the respect of prison authorities and prisoners during his time in Baghdad. “But everyone would like him to come home to his family.”
Falih Hassan as well as Sangar Khalil made a report.