Islamabad, Nov. 17 (Reuters): A British man who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for a murder he says he didn’t commit was released today after 18 years in jail and later flew out of the country.
President Pervez Musharraf commuted Mirza Tahir Hussain’s death sentence on Wednesday to a life term after the British government and rights groups had pleaded for clemency for the 36-year-old from Leeds in northern England.
“He has been released. He is overjoyed and he thanks everybody who has campaigned tirelessly on his behalf,” Mirza Hussain’s brother, Amjad, said at a news conference in London. “Obviously it has been a terrible nightmare and ordeal and I am glad that it is now over and he can come back home. It will be a joyous occasion for the family.”
Mirza Hussain, a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, was convicted of killing taxi driver Jamshaid Khan in Islamabad 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.
He was originally acquitted by Pakistan’s high court, but an Islamic court sentenced him to death 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 hanging several times, most recently until the end of the year, as officials sought a way to spare him.
Authorities had hoped a blood-money settlement, permitted under Islamic law, could be reached with the dead man’s family, but the relatives refused, saying it would be dishonourable.
Amjad Hussain thanked Blair and Prince Charles, as well as Pakistani leaders.
“We are grateful to President Musharraf and Prime Minister (Shaukat) Aziz for their courageous and bold decision,” said Hussain, who attended the news conference with representatives of the rights group Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Hussain’s release.
Referring to Pakistan’s legal system, in which both civil and Islamic courts operate, Hussain said Pakistan had a “terrible dual system of justice”.
The family of the dead taxi driver was furious about his release. “We’ve waited 18 years for justice but unfortunately all our hopes were shattered with the stroke of a pen,” said the driver’s uncle, Sohbat Khan. “It was all done under pressure,” he said, referring to the British calls for Hussain’s release.