Friday, 22 April 2022

Iraq: Veteran British tour guide dies in Baghdad hospital [Updated]

"Hann had friends across
Iraq, and "Mr Geoff" is a byword
among Iraq's historic site custodians".

     Geoff Hann and Tina Townsend-Greaves   
 planning an excursion at an Iraqi police 
station (Hinterland Travel)

Despite efforts to bring him home, a British tour guide and author has died alone in a Baghdad hospital while local authorities waited to question him as a witness in an antiquities smuggling case. Geoff Hann (85) had spent his life as a tour guide arranging trips to Iraq, but suffered a stroke on what was intended to be his last trip. As the tourists headed to the airport on March 19th to take their respective flights home, Hann was found to have suffered a stroke in the night that left him partially paralysed and unable to speak and was deemed too unwell to board the flight.
Instead, he was transferred to Baghdad's al-Yarmouk hospital. Within days of hospitalisation, Hann contracted Covid-19, developing a chest infection and blood clots in his lungs. Doctors warned his closest friend Tina Townsend-Greaves that his survival was unlikely and urged close family to journey to Iraq to see Hann. Despite expectations, Hann pulled through, and once recovered from Covid-19, Townsend-Greaves organised medical evacuation at the cost of £24,700 ($31,00). While the medical team was in Baghdad, with the evacuation just hours away, it was suddenly halted, due to an apparent court order that prevented Hann from leaving the country. [...] It is now understood that two tourists - reportedly one British and one German - [presumably from his last group - PMB] were arrested at Baghdad airport after officials spotted some 30 suspected stolen artefacts in their luggage.
The pair are due soon to stand trial for smuggling antiquities and the authorities were apparently waiting for Hann to give a statement (despite the fact that he had lost his speech). Hann's hospital room was under 24-hour guard, and visits - apart from those from British embassy staff and senior Iraqi officials - were prohibited. The article notes that Hann was not accused of being involved in the artefact theft and that he always impressed on the people on his trips that they should not even pick up any artefacts, let alone try to take them home. Unfortunately for him, if these accusations are true two grown-up people ignored these instructions and this led to the situation Hann found himself in. We expect a British Embassy statement on the situation and on the charges. Geoff Hann RIP. 

The news of his death was published on the GoFundMe page  'Get Geoff Hann Home'

UPDATE 30th April 2022
This seems from the details cited to be the other side of the same story: Tom Ambrose "Family of British geologist facing death penalty in Iraq urge UK to intervene" Guardian Sat 30 Apr 2022
The family of a retired British geologist facing the death penalty in Iraq have called on the UK government to urgently intervene. Jim Fitton, 66, was detained by authorities in the Middle Eastern country, accused of smuggling, during a geology and archaeology trip. Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, and an unnamed German man were arrested when airport security found shards of broken pottery in their luggage as they attempted to leave the country, according to his children. But they insist he had been informed the fragments held no economic or historical value to Iraq before collecting them at a site in Eridu on 20 March. Now they say he is due to face trial in the week commencing 8 May, after Eid al-Fitr in Iraq. His children, Joshua and Leila, and Leila’s husband, Sam Tasker, say Fitton could receive the death penalty if found guilty and have launched a petition calling on the British government to intervene in the case [...] the pair were arrested after the group’s baggage was checked at the airport, with 12 shards said to have been found.
Apparently Article 41 of the Iraqi artefacts law no.55, of 2002 stipulates severe sentences (including the death penalty) for exporting antiquities from Iraq, a fact anyone going to the country should be aware of. Fitton claims "he had been informed the fragments held no economic or historical value to Iraq", by whom? By the tour guide who was then detained to ascertain the facts of the case? Is that why Geoff Hann could not leave the country? Note that the plight of the tour guide apparently mixed up in this was not mentioned in Mr Ambrose's story.

There are however more details in this story in MEE (Alex MacDonald, 'Iraq: British and German tourists detained in Baghdad accused of smuggling antiquities' Middle East Eye 29 April 2022), the relatives say they didn't understand the laws and were let down by the tour company and UK embassy. Here the story of Hann's involvement is given differently from MacDonald's own story cited above.

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