The family of a retired British geologist facing the death penalty in Iraq have called on the UK government to urgently intervene.
Jim Fitton, 66, was detained by authorities in the Middle Eastern country, accused of smuggling, during a geology and archaeology trip.
Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, and an unnamed German man were arrested when airport security found shards of broken pottery in their luggage as they attempted to leave the country, according to his children.
But they said he had been informed of the fragments held no economic or historical value to Iraq before collecting them at a site in Eridu on 20 March. Now they say he is due to the face trial in the week commencing 8 May, after Eid al-Fitr in Iraq.
His children, Joshua and Leila, and Leila’s husband, Sam Tasker, say Fitton could receive the death penalty if found guilty and have launched a petition calling on the British government to intervene in the case.
A statement read: “We have days to save him before sentencing and we need the Foreign Office to help by intervening in his case now.
“Our lawyer has drafted a proposal for the cessation of the case and the immediate repatriation of our father, which requires the backing of the Foreign Office to put to the Iraqi judiciary.”
Tasker added: “Jim would often bring home small souvenirs from his trips to remember the journey by and share his experiences with us. To him this was no more significant than bringing home a small stone from the beach to remember a special family holiday. The items are widely agreed to be valueless.
“This is the offence that now sees my father-in-law facing a potential death sentence under article 41 of the Iraqi artefacts law no 55, of 2002.”
He said the pair were arrested after the group’s baggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards said to have been found.
Tasker is a constituent of Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, who has raised the case in the House of Commons and urged ministers to respond to the “incredibly serious” matter.
The Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling, in a letter to Hobhouse, said: “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.”