| Mirza Tahir Hussain
Islamabad, Nov. 16 (Reuters): President Pervez Musharraf has commuted the death sentence for a British man who has spent 18 years in a Pakistani jail for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and officials were hopeful he would be released soon.
The British government and rights groups had pleaded with Pakistan to grant clemency for Mirza Tahir Hussain, 36, from Leeds in northern England.
“The President has commuted the death sentence to life,” interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said, adding that his ministry was working out the modalities of his release. Hussain’s family welcomed the news, saying their “18 years of nightmare appears to be coming to an end”.
“It has been an emotional rollercoaster for the family. We have been looking forward to this day,” his brother Amjad Hussain told reporters in England. “We are overjoyed.” Musharraf took the decision yesterday, officials said.
While a life term is usually 25 years, with time off for good behaviour and Muslim and national holidays, Hussain is believed to have served his time.
“Hopefully he will be granted total relief. He will be informed about it today,” Tariq Azim Khan, junior information minister, said.
Hussain, a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, was convicted of killing a taxi driver in 1988. He said the man had tried to sexually assault him and then threatened him with a gun, which went off when they struggled.
Grey bearded and overweight after having spent half his life in jail, Hussain now bears little physical resemblance to the slim 18-year-old who set out on his first visit to his family's ancestral homeland.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair, who according to Pakistan’s foreign ministry is due to visit Islamabad next week, said Musharraf’s role in resolving the case was welcomed.
“The Prime Minister, like the foreign secretary, welcomes the decision by President Musharraf to commute the sentence of Mirza Tahir Hussain,” Blair's spokesman said. Blair had raised the matter with Musharraf in London in September.
Hussain was originally acquitted by Pakistan’s high court, but the Islamic federal shariat court sentenced him to death by hanging in 1998. The sentence was upheld by the supreme court in 2003, and a review petition was rejected a year later.
But the government had put off his execution several times, most recently until the end of the year, and officials said they were trying to find a way to spare him.