Over 100,000 petitioners are urging the U.K. government to help save a retired British geologist currently facing the death penalty in Iraq.
Jim Fitton, 66, has been accused of trying to smuggle historic artifacts out of the Middle Eastern country and has been detained there for five weeks.
On April 28, Jim’s daughter Leila launched a petition via Change.org asking the British government to take action against the death sentence.
The scientist, who shares a home in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah, worked for oil and gas companies. He reportedly took some stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting the archaeological site Eridu as part of a geology and archeology tour.
The items, however, were eventually judged to be artifacts. Under Iraqi law, “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution.”
“Whilst on the tour, our father visited historical sites around Iraq, where his tour group found fragments of stones and shards of broken pottery in piles on the ground,” Leila narrated in the petition. “These fragments were in the open, unguarded and with no signage warning against removal.”
She added that the tour leaders also took shards from the site as souvenirs.
“Tour members were told that this would not be an issue, as the broken shards had no economic or historical value,” she wrote. “Now the tour leader, another British citizen, has passed away from a stroke in custody in Baghdad, and our father awaits his fate.”
Leila, who has not seen her father for over two years now due to COVID-19 restrictions, revealed in a recent petition update that her father had no legal representation when the investigation phase of the case was being heard.
She added that she and her family were forced to create a petition after failing to get help from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
According to Leila, they are still hopeful that the FCDO will help them with its “legal and constitutional powers” to secure a meeting with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and other judiciary officials, so they can present a proposal seeking to “have the case closed before trial.”
Leila said their lawyer had drafted the proposal, which “cites the clear lack of criminality, that Jim is a victim of poor guidance and circumstance, and also cites the huge investment that the UK has made in the Iraqi governmental and judicial framework through FCDO funding in the past few years.”
Jim’s family is hoping to get immediate assistance before the hearing for the sentencing court starts on May 8.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, raised Jim’s case with ministers in the House of Commons.
“We are pressing the Foreign Office to intervene but sadly they are continuing to refuse,” Hobhouse said. “I cannot understand why the Foreign Office is not intervening when Jim’s life lays in the balance.”
In response, FCDO said it is already providing consular support to the family and has been in contact with Iraqi authorities.
“We understand the urgency of the case, and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr. Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle,” a letter sent by Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling to Hobhouse last week.