He was, in the words of one of the judges who ruled on his case, the victim of a "shameless" set-up by police who fabricated evidence to secure his conviction after a criminal trial had absolved him of guilt. Yet at dawn tomorrow the British national Mirza Tahir Hussain will face death by hanging for a crime of which he almost certainly innocent.
The family of Hussain, who was arrested 18 years ago for the murder of a taxi driver in Pakistan, made a final plea for his life yesterday to the country's visiting President, Pervez Musharraf, as he arrived to address the Oxford Unionon the subject on "modern-day Pakistan".
General Musharraf, who has been besieged with reminders and protests about the case during his tour of Europe in the past 10 days, faced a vocal protest by Hussain's family. As his car pulled away from the university, he clearly acknowledged the protest and gave a thumbs-up signal when a protester shouted: "Will you free Mirza Tahir?"
But Amnesty International, which took part in the family's protest, provided a grave assessment of Hussain's chances. "Pakistan has a very high execution rate, and decisions are arbitrary," said the organisation's Sarah Greene. "This case remains on a knife edge."
The case reflects international concern about the human rights record in Pakistan, where some 7,000 people are on death row and, according to a recent Amnesty report, "torture and ill-treatment are endemic; arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention are a growing problem; extrajudicial executions of criminal suspects are frequent."
In Oxford yesterday, General Musharraf preferred to talk about the country's blossoming economy, free media and desire to tackle terror. Pakistan, he told the Union, needed "understanding and assistance instead of criticism" in its efforts to tackle terror.
Hussain's brother Amjad, 38, who grew up with him in Leeds, West Yorkshire, has given up his job at a drugs research company to fight for his brother's release. He called on General Musharraf to demonstrate that he was "a progressive and modern" leader. "The whole world is watching this. I'm sure he will not let us down," he said.
General Musharraf, who was lobbied on the subject again last night in a meeting with Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Britain, has told European politicians that he does not have the authority to overrule the sharia court which ruled on the case - though a senior legal officer in Pakistan told ITN this week that the President was within his constitutional rights to save the Briton's life.
Mirza Tahir Hussain was a typical sports-obsessed 18-year-old when he left Leeds in December 1988 to visit relatives in Pakistan. It was his first trip alone, a break from his A-level studies, after which he planned to follow a career in the British Army. He had been a keen member of the Territorial Army since leaving school.
Three days after flying out from Heathrow, he took a train from his aunt's home in Karachi to Rawalpindi where he hailed a taxi to reach his family in the village of Bhubar. It was a trip few Pakistanis would risk with an unknown driver in the dark, but Hussain paid 500 rupees for the ride.
Later that night, Hussain led police to the body of the driver, who had been shot dead. He has always maintained that the driver stopped the car, tried to sexually assault him and pulled a gun. In the ensuing struggle, the gun went off and killed the driver. It was subsequently established that the gun did belong to the driver.
Hussain, who was brought to Britain as a baby by his parents, was convicted and sentenced to death. The High Court in Lahore found flaws in the case and ordered a retrial, in which Hussain was sentenced to life imprisonment. Again, the High Court overturned the verdict, and on 20 May 1996, he was acquitted of all charges and looked set to be freed. But Pakistan's sharia court, which operates in parallel to the secular court and its English common law, intervened and reimposed the death sentence.
Murder does not usually fall within the jurisdiction of sharia courts, but the court argued that this was a case of armed robbery, a crime which does. Under sharia law, death sentences for murder can be commuted if the victim's family accepts "blood money" and asks the courts to show mercy. Throughout Hussain's case the family of Jamshed Khan has refused any offers of blood money and has criticised previous stays of execution.
A 59-page ruling from one of the judges sitting in the sharia court stated that the young Briton had been framed by the Pakistani police, who planted evidence on him, introduced false witnesses in court, and lied on the witness stand. Mr Justice Abdul Wahid Siddiqui - the dissenting voice when the judges found Hussain guilty 2-1 - accused police of fabricating evidence at a time "when all negotiations had failed" - a clear reference to attempts by the police to elicit bribes. Hussain was "an innocent raw youth, not knowing the mischief and filth in which the police of this country is engrossed," the judge wrote .
Amjad Hussain has been told by a former law minister, Khalid Ranjha, that the President has the power to revoke the sharia ruling. "There is an individual's life at stake here," he said. "Mirza has lost the prime of his youth for a crime he has been cleared of."
UK citizens on death row
** Linda Carty, a UK national from St Kitts, was sentenced in Texas for murdering a neighbour to kidnap her child. She has twice appealed.
* Chan King Yu, a British national from Hong Kong, was charged with trafficking drugs in Malaysia in 2000. He was sentenced to hang after losing an appeal. He has one more appeal.
* Anthony Flanagan, 35, from Leicester, was sentenced to death in Thailand in 2004 after being found guilty of possessing heroin with intent to sell.
* Kenny Gay, 51, has been on death row in California for 21 years, after he and a co-defendant were convicted of murdering a police officer.
* Neil Revill, 34, was charged with the 2001 murder of a couple in their apartment.
* Kenny Richey, 41, was convicted in 1987 of murdering a child in the US, in a fire that prosecutors claimed he started to kill his ex-girlfriend. In 2003, his conviction was reversed, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2005.
* Omar Sheikh, a British-born Islamist militant, was sentenced to hang in Pakistan for the murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The US government and Pearl's wife have since acknowledged that Sheikh was not responsible.Reuse content