Trial of European tourists accused of smuggling Iraqi antiquities postponed

Photo: David Stanley

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SULAIMANI — The trial of two foreign tourists charged with attempting to smuggle antiquities out of Iraq has been postponed at the request of the defendants’ lawyers, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Sunday (May 22).

Volker Waldman, a German citizen, and Jim Fitton, a geologist from the UK, are facing charges after pottery shards that Fitton collected at the ancient Sumerian site of Eridu were discovered in their luggage as they were leaving Baghdad in March.

Waldman and Fitton said they were not informed of the Iraqi law on smuggling antiquities, according to the AP, which noted the charge could technically result in the death penalty, although officials note this is highly unlikely.

Their trial was delayed at the request of Waldman’s lawyer, who filed a motion to allow more time to gather information on the fragments of pottery, which could be categorized as archaeological pieces, the AP stated.

Fitton’s family has issued a statement along with a petition on change.org calling for the UK Foreign Office to intervene in his case.

The family said in its statement that Fitton and other tourists, who were part of a tour group, were unaware the shards of pottery at the site of Eridu were considered valuable. They stated Fitton and others had been told by the group leader and a representative of the tourism ministry that the debris was not of historic value.

Wera Hobhouse, an MP from the British city of Bath, said in a Facebook post on May 4 that she has raised Fitton’s case in parliament and would "continue to pressure the Foreign Office to intervene.”

The tour group’s leader, Geoff Hann, died of a stroke at the age of 85 after he was prevented from leaving on a flight due to his poor health and taken to a hospital in Baghdad. Fitton’s family said he had been in increasingly poor health during their trip.

Hann had led tour groups to Iraq for more than 40 years, including during the Iran-Iraq war, according to the National UAE.

(NRT Digital Media)