A retired British geologist who faces the death penalty for attempting to smuggle ancient artifacts out of Iraq faces another two weeks in a holding cell after his trial was postponed by an Iraqi court.
Both Jim Fitton, 66, and co-defendant German tourist Volker Waldmann were escorted into the courtroom in bright yellow overalls as Fitton’s family hoped the judges would reach a decision during a second court hearing later today.
Instead, they now have to wait until June 6, after the Baghdad Criminal Court postponed the case at the request of the Waldmann defense team.
Both men were arrested March 20 at Baghdad airport with smashed Iraqi antiques as they tried to leave the country.
It was reported that Waldmann’s defense attorney, Furat Kubba, argued that more information was needed on the historical significance of the 12 items found in her possession, which Iraqi officials said could be considered archaeological pieces as they are more than 200 years old be.
Mr Fitton’s son-in-law Sam Tasker said the hearing had been pushed back to June 6 because of unknown “paperwork issues”.
‘It’s not really bad news, but it’s another two weeks of waiting for us all and detention for Jim over an administrative problem.’
Jim Fitton of Britain, center, and Volker Waldmann of Germany, right, wearing yellow prison uniforms, are escorted by handcuffed Iraqi security forces outside a courtroom in Baghdad, Iraq
British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, retired who was arrested in Iraq. The retired British geologist accused of smuggling artifacts suspected the items were ancient but had no idea he was breaking Iraqi law, a court has heard
This is the second time Jim’s hearing has been postponed — after a previous week-long delay for a hearing originally scheduled for May 15-22 — to give the defense more time to present evidence
The trial was delayed an additional two weeks over apparent “paperwork issues” as Waldmann’s legal team requested more time
This is the second time Jim’s hearing has been postponed — after a previous week-long delay for a hearing originally scheduled for May 15-22 — to give the defense more time to present evidence.
The judge told the defendants on that occasion that they were charged under a 2002 law that provides for penalties, up to the death penalty, for those found guilty of “deliberately taking or attempting to kidnap an antique from Iraq.” “.
Tasker, 27, from Bath, says the family are all “struggling immensely” with the delays and lack of knowledge of the situation.
He added: “Obviously we’re just trying to get Jim home safe and sound as soon as possible.
“Any setback we get cuts us all deeply, and another two-week delay in judgment leaves us all in limbo longer.
“The family is all struggling with the uncertainty and our constant fear for Jim’s life.
“And two more weeks in a holding cell for Jim, bringing him to a total of 10 weeks in prison, is worrying given his age.
His family says he was accused of stealing fragments that were exposed at Eridu, an ancient ruined city found in Iraq that was once in southern Mesopotamia
Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife and two children Joshua and Leila who have petitioned to urge the UK government to act
“We don’t know what his mental state is but he seems to be holding up – but it may not last forever.
“For now, we will all persevere.”
Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who represents Fitton’s family in her Bath constituency, said: “This is a frustrating outcome for Jim and his family. Two more weeks to wait.
“I’m thinking again today of Jim and his family who have been through so much. Another two weeks in a holding cell is a cruel ordeal that should have been avoided.’
Father-of-two Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian city in southern Iraq, as part of an organized geology and archeology tour.
Both he and Waldmann were arrested after items were found in their possession as their group prepared to depart Baghdad Airport on March 20.
Waldmann said the two items found in his possession did not belong to him and were instead given to him by Fitton to carry.
Fitton sits in the back seat with his family in this undated photo
Both defendants could face the death penalty under Iraqi law, but it has been suggested that such an outcome is unlikely.
Fitton insisted he did not act with criminal intent and had no idea he was breaking Iraqi law when he first appeared in court earlier this month.
He lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah, while his daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker live in Bath, Somerset.
Ms Hobhouse said: “Jim and his family have shown incredible determination and strength through this whole ordeal and I hope they get the support they need over the next two weeks.
“This situation could have been avoided if the Federal Foreign Office had acted earlier. We have all accepted that the Department of State will offer no further assistance to Jim and his family.
“The focus is now on the new date of June 6th. In the meantime I will continue to explore ways and contact the Foreign Office in the hope of finding answers.”
The Foreign Office has said it cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process and has taken a clear stance against the death penalty.