Sunday, 1 October 2006

UK pressure over Pakistan hanging

Family members and activists in the UK have held protests against the planned execution of Mirza Tahir Hussain in Pakistan this weekend. (Another report online here.)

Mirza Tahir Hussain, a UK citizen, is due to be hanged for the alleged murder of a taxi driver during a trip to Pakistan in 1988.

In 1989 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was acquitted by the Lahore High Court, which cited discrepancies in the case, but his case was referred to the Federal Sharia Court and he was again convicted and sentenced to death.

Mirza's brother Amjad Hussain led a protest outside the Oxford Union on Friday, where President General Pervez Musharraf was delivering a speech about modern Pakistan.

According to the report in The Guardian, Gen Musharraf gave protesters the "thumbs up" sign and Mr Hussain later said: "This is an 11th hour protest for President Musharraf to step in and stop an innocent man going to the gallows. The world is watching. This is a chance for the president to show he is a progressive, modern leader. I'm sure he will not let us down."

Amnesty International (AI) believes Mirza was convicted after an unfair trial, and an AI briefing on the case notes that he has been granted "an unusual amount of remission and recognition of good conduct" during his 18 years in prison.

He has exhausted all avenues of appeal, and only President Musharraf can now commute his sentence. The Times Online reported that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed for clemency in a meeting with President Musharraf on Thursday.

Pressure for moratorium
On 11 September, AI issued a statement encouraging European leaders and members of parliament to raise the death penalty in meetings with President Musharraf.

AI urged European Union (EU) leaders and members of the European Parliament to "call for an immediate moratorium on executions with view to abolishing the death penalty in Pakistan".

Dick Ooosting, Director of the human rights organisation's EU Office said: "Pakistan's rate of executions is one of the highest in the world. Given the EU's strong commitment to oppose the death penalty, President Musharraf should be pressed hard for a moratorium on all executions."

According to AI, "Pakistan applies the death penalty also against persons who were under 18 at the time of the crime, a practice which contravenes international law".

The organisation said defendents from from poorer backgrounds were also denied basic rights at all stages of the justice system, while many wealthier people escaped punishment under the "Qisas and Diyat Ordinance" that allowed families of murder victims to accept compensation and pardon the offender.

AI encouraged EU leaders to raise the cases of individuals who faced imminent execution if they were not granted a Presidential pardon, in particular highlighting Mirza Tahir Hussain's case.

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