BAGHDAD (AP) — A retired British geologist sentenced to 15 years for antiquities smuggling in Iraq may soon go free after a Baghdad court overturned his conviction, his family and lawyer said on Tuesday.
Baghdad’s Court of Cassation, or appeals court, overturned the verdict against Jim Fitton, 66, last month, his lawyer Thair Soud told the Associated Press. The decision was made on the basis of an appeal filed by Soud shortly after Fitton was convicted.
Fitton’s release date was not immediately known, but Soud said pending paperwork, he should be freed soon.
The court “agreed with the justifications we drove in the memo against the sentence and how it was based on mistakes in the application of the law, and further, in the assessment of the evidence,” Soud told The Associated Press.
Fitton drew international attention last month after the conviction for picking up shards of pottery from an archeological site in southern Iraq. Many feared the incident would deter tourists from visiting Iraq, where the government hopes to grow the nascent tourism sector.
Some of the pieces he picked up were no larger than a fingernail, he later told the criminal court. He was arrested in March at Baghdad Airport and sentenced in June.
Documents posted to the judiciary website said the appeals court found that Fitton’s trial judges had made mistakes and that key circumstantial evidence had been overlooked, including Fitton’s unfamiliarity with local laws. It also pointed out that the areas where he had picked up the pieces were unguarded.
The court noted that Fitton had made no attempt to hide the items at the airport. The shards were clearly visible when the airport staff checked his luggage. Based on this, the court found that Fitton harbored no criminal intent to smuggle antiquities and ordered his immediate release, according to the document.
The decision was a “real win,” said Soud.
Fitton’s family said they were “over the moon” but that “we still have no idea what the timeline looks like and do not want to do any formal interviews until Jim is safely home with us,” his son-in-law, Sam Tasker , told the AP.
Fitton missed his daughter’s wedding last month in Malaysia as he faced trial in Iraq.