Retired geologist jailed in Iraq ‘had asked for permission’ to take stones and pottery from historical site

A 66-year-old geologist who was jailed for 15 years in Iraq after being found with fragments of stone and pottery he picked up on a trip to Iraq had asked a government representative on the tour if he was allowed to take the artefacts, his sister has said.
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Ruth Zuccarello, who lives in Kirkcaldy, said her brother had checked with a representative from the Iraqi Ministry of Culture if he could take the items he found during an organised visit to the ruins of the ancient city of Eridu in southern Mesopotamia, near modern-day Dhi Qar, as part of an organised archaeological tour of the region in March.

Ms Zuccarello, speaking ahead of the results of an appeal hearing due later this month, said the family was hoping for a positive outcome. The appeal hearing is set to take place within the next two weeks.

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Retired geologist Mr Fitton, who spent some of his childhood in Fife and later lived in Aberdeen where he worked for oil as gas companies as a geological adviser, was sentenced to 15 years in a Baghdad prison after being detained at the airport on his return from the tour in March. Officials had found 12 pebbles and some shards of pottery in his luggage.

Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife SarijahRetired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife Sarijah
Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife Sarijah

A German national tried with Mr Fitton was found not to have had criminal intent in the case and was released.

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Fife woman loses fight to save brother from jail for smuggling artefacts in Iraq

Ms Zuccarello said: “He’s well used to travel and he's well used to difficult circumstances. But he never expected – as we never expected – that he would ever find himself in this kind of situation on holiday, and end up in prison. This was just beyond the realms of what we would ever have thought.

"The thing was, he actually asked permission [to take the pieces]. These trips are highly organised. There was a Ministry of Culture representative and there was also a security guard who was a trained policeman.

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"At this site, he had seen these pieces lying around and he asked if he could pick up a few and apparently the Ministry of Culture representative said ‘yes, that's OK’. Because they don't have any financial value.”

She said Mr Zitton had missed the wedding of his daughter, Leila, during his time in prison. The family has not been able to speak to Mr Zitton since his imprisonment. They have been told the appeal should be heard in mid-July, when they hope he could be released.

Ms Zuccarello said: “I can tell you that for the time being he's OK. I can't really tell you much more than that. He's in a cell with other people and the temperatures are very high there, so hopefully he's got air conditioning. [The concerns] are things like drinking water and things to take up his attention.”

She added: “We're really hoping for a positive outcome, that he's released, but obviously we'll have to see. Rather than thinking of the negatives and some what could happen, it's better to focus on the positives for the moment – the fact there is this appeal and we hope it's successful. And then if it isn’t, we cross that bridge when we come to it.”

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