Shafaq News/ A retired British geologist is at risk of facing the death penalty after being accused of attempting to smuggle historic artefacts out of Iraq, according to his family.
UK ministers have faced calls to intervene to help 'make a difference' in the case of Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in the Middle-Eastern country.
Father-of-two Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, was held over smuggling allegations during his first visit to the country for a geology and archaeology tour.
His children - Joshua and Leila, and Leila's husband Sam Tasker - have launched a petition to press the UK Government to help with his case.
Tasker said in a statement Fitton and a German man on the trip were arrested after the group's baggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards said to have been recovered from his luggage.
His family say he is accused of taking broken shards of pottery found at the Eridu historical site in southern Iraq. The incident took place on March 20 and a serious illness to the group's tour guide was also reported.
'Whilst on the tour, our father visited historical sites around Iraq, where his tour group found fragments of stones and shards of broken pottery in piles on the ground,' the man's family wrote with in the petition.
'These fragments were in the open, unguarded and with no signage warning against removal. Tour leaders also collected the shards as souvenirs at the site in Eridu.'
'Tour members were told that this would not be an issue, as the broken shards had no economic or historical value.' It added, 'We think that our father may be put on trial the week commencing May 8, after Eid in Iraq.
'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 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, in a statement, explained: '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.'
Modern day Iraq occupies the land that was once Mesopotamia, and as a result has a trove of historical sites - including the ancient city of Babylon.
The site in question, Eridu, is found in southern Mesopotamia, and is considered to be the earliest city in the southern region - dating back to approximately 5,400BC.
Archaeological looting in Iraq has taken place since at least the 19th century, and often occurred in the chaos that followed war - including the 2003 Iraq war.
As a result, Iraq has strict laws in place against looting, and anyone found guilty can be severely punished - with large fines, prison sentences and even the death penalty.