IRAQ – A British tourist was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in an Iraqi prison for taking pottery shards from an archaeological site.
The New York Times says James Fitton, 66, who is a retired geologist, was found guilty Monday under a 2002 law that has a sentence of seven to 15 years in prison for stealing artifacts.
Fitton was part of a British tour group that visited Iraq last March, said the NYT. The group toured the Sumerian site of Eridu, which is in southern Iraq. Fitton told the court that when he was there he picked up shards of pottery and stones to take home, not knowing that it was illegal, according to the NYT.
Airport security, according to the NYT, found 12 shards and stones in his luggage as the tour group was departing Baghdad.
Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that Fitton had “criminal intent to smuggle the artifacts that he had picked up and intended to transport them out of the country,” according to the Associated Press. The pieces that Fitton took were over 200 years old, per the Iraqi Culture Ministry.
The Washington Post says the British Foreign Office on Tuesday is speaking with local authorities over the matter. Fitton’s family is working to try to get him home sooner. The AP says the family has started a petition with over 100,000 signatures to get the BFO to intervene.
Fitton was tried with another man, Volker Waldman, from Germany and was found to not have had criminal intent and will be released, the AP says.