British man freed from death row in Pakistan returns home

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A Briton who spent 18 years on death row in Pakistan arrived back in Britain last night, after the country's President Pervez Musharraf declared his sentence would be commuted.

Mirza Tahir Hussain, from Leeds, arrived at Heathrow for an emotional reunion with his family after being released yesterday morning. Mr Hussain told reporters at Heathrow: "I am glad to be back home."

In a statement read on his behalf by MEP Sajjad Haider Karim, he said: " It has been a tremendous strain to be separated from my family and loved ones. I thank God for giving me the faith and strength to persevere. 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.

"I ask the media now to give me the peace and space to do this. Thanks again for your support and to my friends for their help.

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

He also thanked President Musharraf, the Prince of Wales, Tony Blair and all of the others involved in his release.

Mr Hussain, from Leeds, has always maintained his innocence over the murder of a taxi driver in 1988. His brother told an Amnesty International press conference earlier that Mr Hussain was "overjoyed" and thanked groups who had campaigned for his release.

"Obviously it has been a terrible nightmare and ordeal," he said. "I am glad it is now over and he can come home.

"He has to make that transition, he will need help, counselling and rehabilitation. He has paid a terrible price for something that he did not do."

Mr Hussain was 18 when he was convicted for the murder of Jamshed Khan, in 1988. He has never swerved from his insistence that he was innocent of murder, and that he had killed Mr Khan in self-defence after the taxi-driver tried to sexually assault him. He had been due to be hanged on 31 December but was given a reprieve after President Musharraf bowed to international pressure for clemency. Mr Hussain was released from prison almost immediately after President Musharraf commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. That sentence carries a term of 14 years in Pakistan, which he has already served.

His brother said their mother could not believe that she would finally see her son again. "She told me, 'I want to have physical possession of him and hold him in my arms ­ I will believe it when I see him'." He also made it clear that the Hussain family considered the Prince of Wales' intervention in the case, during his visit to Pakistan last month, vital to the decision to release him. "His Royal Highness had an impact, he is held in high esteem in Pakistan," he said. Mr Hussain also thanked Mr Blair, for his appeal to President Musharraf.

Mr Hussain was serving in the Territorial Army when he decided to travel to Pakistan for a holiday in 1988, his first visit since leaving the country as a young child. He has always insisted that Mr Khan was driving him to visit family when he pulled a gun on him before attempting to sexually assault him, and that in the struggle the gun went off, killing the driver.

He was twice acquitted on appeal but an Islamic court sentenced him to death in 1998. The government put off his execution several times, most recently until the end of this year. Authorities had hoped the dead man's family would accept a blood-money settlement, permitted under Islamic law, but they refused.

Tim Hancock, from Amnesty International UK, said yesterday that 7,000 people are on death row in Pakistan, where use of the death penalty is the fifth highest in the world.