Kimberly Mergits, a Belgian from Antwerp, has been detained in Türkiye and is facing a prison sentence after attempting to bring home 3 stones she had found on the street.
She and her partner, Warre, were on holiday in Antalya and found some nice stones on the street and on the beach that they wanted to bring back to Belgium to decorate their aquarium. Reaching the security check at the airport however, they were asked if they had any salt or minerals in their luggage. They said no but admitted to having taken a few stones. The couple were first questioned at the airport’s police outpost, then taken to a station back in the city.
“The next day, my girlfriend had to go and explain it in court. I don’t know why Kim had to do that and not me but she is not allowed to leave the country”, Warre said in a video interview with VRT News. “She has been charged with smuggling three archaeological stones.”
“One of the stones was the size of my hand, sand-coloured with two little flowers carved into it. We found that one in an alley full of rubbish. The two other stones, like pieces of marble with a sparkle in them, we found on the beach. It’s full of them”, the couple told VRT. “We never thought that the stones belonged to a museum, as they now claim. In fact, we have never visited a museum. We flew to Antalya, but we have not actually visited the city. It’s not like we have taken a piece of the temple, these are just small stones.”
Despite the couple’s lack of malicious intent, Türkiye’s law prohibits the export of any items of potential archaeological value, even if they appear to be insignificant. The Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly explains the issue in its website: “It is strictly prohibited to export antiquities, minerals or objects found locally (stones for example), even if they do not show any cultural-historical value. Severe sanctions are associated with this (heavy fines and prison sentences of 10 to 20 years).”
Although Warre was released and faces no charges, Mergits is not allowed to leave the country, as the holiday reservation was made in her name, and has to go to the police station every Monday to prove she is still in the country awaiting trial. In a video shared by sky news, the woman is shown crying and saying she would pay any fine, but she arguing she should not be imprisoned as she was unaware that taking the stones was illegal.
Meanwhile, experts from Antalya’s Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism have confirmed that all 3 items have archaeological value. “The item with two stylised rosettes on it was an architectural decoration piece [and] the two marble items were floor stones”, the report says.
No date had been set for Mergits’ appearance before court, however, Warre told Het Laatste Nieuws his girlfriend might have to stay in Türkiye until December, as authorities are currently “very busy”. The couple are trying to find a lawyer until a trial date is confirmed.