Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Behave Yourself on Holiday in Iraq, or Just Don't Go


UK Home Office: "Code Red,
        Advise against all travel"       
The trial in Iraq has started of a Briton and a German allegedly found with ancient pottery shards in their luggage who claim ignorance of the law concerning such artefacts. When they were leaving the country, according to statements from customs officers and witnesses, the baggage of one of the men contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics, while two further pieces were found in a plastic bag in the luggage of the German (AFP, 'Briton, German on trial in Iraq over pottery shards' 15/05/2022):
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist [...] were arrested March 20 at Baghdad airport [...] The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity". [...] When the judge asked Fitton why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, he cited his "hobby" and said he did not mean to do anything illegal. "I didn't realise that taking them was against the law," he said, adding that some of the ancient sites were open and unguarded. "I am a retired geologist. My interests still lie in geology and ancient history and archeology," said Fitton, who lives in Malaysia. He added that "most of the pieces were really small".
Reportedly, the fragments came from the Eridu archaeological site in southern Iraq. The trial is to continue on May 22.

Publicity around this trial will undoubtably make people think twice about visiting Iraq, at a time when teh country is hoping to achieve the regrowth of tourism, among which one key point is to encourage international visitors to tour its many archaeological sites (many of which are anyway pockmarked with unsightly looters' holes). Even if they do not intend to gather a few sherds from the ground surface as souvenirs, this case suggests that there is no telling what other harsh penalties exist in Iraq for a traveller carelessly behaving as they would at home. The UK Home Office and US State Department still both advise not going to Iraq at all due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and limited capacity of diplomats there to provide support to its country's citizens.

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