Jim Fitton: Nearly 100,000 back campaign to free British geologist facing death penalty in Iraq | World News



Tens of thousands of people have backed a campaign seeking the release of a retired British geologist facing the death penalty in Iraq after being accused of smuggling.

Pressure is now growing on the government to take urgent action and help free father-of-two Jim Fitton, 66, whose “life lays in the balance”, say supporters.

Within days of being launched by his family, a petition has already attracted more than 95,000 signatures.

His daughter Leila and her husband Sam Tasker, from Bath, in Somerset, have also revealed his sentencing this month is expected to coincide with a long-planned celebration of their wedding, which was held last year amid coronavirus restrictions.

They said: “There is never a good time for something like this to happen but we are one week away from what should be the happiest day of our lives, and the culmination of more than two years of planning, and it’s been turned into an absolute living nightmare.”

Mr Fitton worked as a geologist for oil and gas companies during his career and lives in his adopted home of Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah.

COVID travel rules means Mr Fitton’s daughter has not seen him for more than two years.

Mr Fitton has been detained in Iraq for five weeks after allegedly trying to smuggle historic artefacts out of the country.

His family said Mr Fitton collected stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the country’s southeast, as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour.

But they added the items were judged to be artefacts under Iraqi law and the charge levelled at Mr Fitton states “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution”.

 Leila, Sarijah and Jim Fitton
Mr Fitton seen here with his wife Sarijah and daughter Leila, who has described his plight as ‘a living nightmare’

The case in connection with the March incident is expected to go for sentencing in the week beginning 8 May.

Mr Fitton’s family described the response to the petition as “unbelievable”, adding in a statement: “Jim really appreciates the support from old colleagues, good friends, kindred spirits, and complete strangers who have not allowed this to go unnoticed.

“We will continue to fight while we continue to have you at our backs.”

The family said their lawyer has drafted a proposal under Iraqi law to have the case closed before trial, but they need the Foreign Office to “put their weight behind the plan and endorse it” so they can secure a high-level meeting with judicial officials in the country.

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, has raised his case with ministers in the House of Commons.

She said: “We are pressing the Foreign Office to intervene but sadly they are continuing to refuse.

“I cannot understand why the Foreign Office is not intervening when Jim’s life lays in the balance.”

She added: “The Foreign Office must do everything in their power to bring Jim back home to his family.”

Joshua, Sarijah, Jim and Leila Fitton
The father-of-two with his wife and two children Joshua and Leila, who are fighting for his release

The Foreign Office has said it is providing consular support and is in contact with the local authorities.

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling, in a letter to Ms Hobhouse, said last week: “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.”


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