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An Iraqi court sentenced a British man to 15 years in prison this week after finding him guilty of attempting to smuggle ancient artifacts from a country known as the cradle of civilization, CNN reported.

The judge said that former geologist Jim Fitton had attempted to smuggle 12 artifacts that he had picked up during a tour in Iraq’s ancient city of Eridu, which is part of the remains of Sumerian cities in ancient Mesopotamia. Another man, German Volker Waldmann, was also tried with Fitton but was released due to a lack of evidence

In March, authorities detained Fitton and Waldmann after discovering the archaeological items in their luggage. Both men had been touring the country’s ancient sites, the Associated Press noted.

Under a 2002 Iraqi law, looting artifacts can lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years, while stealing antiquities by force is punishable by the death penalty.

Still, Fitton’s lawyer and family said the 66-year-old man had no criminal intent, no knowledge that he was breaking any local laws, nor any idea of the value of the goods found in his possession.

His lawyer said that he will appeal. Fitton’s family also fears that he will not be able to survive prison at his age.

The proceedings have received much international attention as Iraq seeks to open its tourism sector. It has also divided public opinion in Iraq with some saying that the punishment was fair, considering that the country has been a looting ground for invaders and foreigners for decades, with few punished. Others also pointed out that Iraq lacked proper site management or information to warn foreign visitors about the laws.

The country has recently pushed to recover thousands of ancient artifacts plundered in the two decades since the US invasion – many of which ended up in museums and personal collections in the United States and around the world, the Washington Post said.

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