Thursday, 23 November 2006

Mirza Tahir Hussain: Safe, free and home

UK national Mirza Tahir Hussain has returned home from Pakistan following President Pervez Musharaff's decision to commute his death sentence.

Hussain had endured three trials, two death sentences, four stays of execution and eighteen years in prison.

President Musharaff commuted the sentence to life imprisonment on Wednesday 15 October. A life sentence in Pakistan usually means a minimum term of 14 years in prison, making him immediately eligible for release. He was freed on Friday and he flew out for the UK the same day.

Hussain was scheduled to hang after 31 December, when a fourth stay of execution was due to expire.

After his family received confirmation of the decision, his brother Amjad said: "I welcome the news and I'm grateful to President Musharraf that he has taken this decision on humanitarian grounds.

"We are near the finishing line. At last, this 18 years of nightmare appears to be coming to an end."

Amjad Hussain said his brother would need time to recover and adjust after his years of imprisonment.

"There will be help and there will be counselling, he will have the best he can get.

"He needs to catch up on all the news that he's missed, the world has moved on and he's been living a life of standstill for the last 18 years," he said.

The BBC News website quoted a statement read on Mirza Hussein's behalf after his release: "It has been a tremendous strain to be separated from my family and loved ones.

"Freedom is a great gift. I want to use this freedom to get to know my family again, to adjust back to living here and to come to terms with my ordeal.

"My thoughts remain with all the prisoners I have left behind."

Under the shadow
Hussain was convicted of murdering taxi driver Jamshed Khan who died in Punjab Province on 17 December 1988. He had always claimed he was physically and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by the taxi driver, and the gun went off in the struggle that followed.

He was first sentenced to death in 1989, later reduced to life, before being acquitted of all charges in 1996. His case was then referred to the religious Federal Shariat Court and in 1998 he was sentenced to death for robbery involving murder, despite the Court's acknowledgement that no robbery was involved.

One of the three judges in his sharia court trial found that police had "fabricated evidence in a shameless manner".

The taxi driver's family later rejected an offer of blood money under Islamic law and insisted that the death sentence be carried out.

Amnesty International (AI), along with other organisations, argued he was convicted after an unfair trial and said "under no circumstances" should the sentence be upheld.

President Musharaff rejected a mercy petition, and he said in October that he did not have the power to override the judgement of a sharia court. But campaigners pointed out that article 45 of the constitution gave him the power to commute "any sentence passed by any court".

Later reports suggested the president was looking for legal grounds to commute the sentence.

UK campaign
Amjad Hussain led a strong campaign for clemency across the UK, including Amnesty International UK, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Catholic Church. Amjad reportedly gave up his job as a computer scientist to lead the campaign for his brother's freedom.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on Hussain's behalf, and Prince Charles made a direct appeal for mercy following an official meeting with President Musharaff in Islamabad on 30 October.

Related stories:
Pakistan: Fourth reprieve for Mirza Hussain -- 22 October, 2006
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October, 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system – 12 October, 2006
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

Pakistan, Mirza Tahir Hussain, Amjad Hussain, death row

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