Death row Briton 'freed from Pakistan jail'

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The Independent Online

A Briton who was spared a death sentence in Pakistan has been released from prison, a Pakistani minister said today.

Mirza Tahir Hussain, from Leeds, was due to be hanged under Islamic law for murdering taxi driver Jamshed Khan in 1988.

But yesterday his death sentence was changed to life imprisonment on the orders of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf.

Today, the country's interior minister said the Briton has been released from custody after 18 years behind bars.

The Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told the Associated Press news agency: "He has been released this morning."

Yesterday, Hussain's family were overjoyed by the news that "the shadow of death" had been lifted from him.

His brother Amjad said they were "almost at the finish line" and he hoped his 36-year-old brother would be home by Christmas.

Hussain always protested his innocence, insisting he acted in self defence.

Speaking at his home in Brudenell Grove, Hyde Park, Leeds, yesterday, he said: "The family of Mirza Tahir Hussain are overjoyed that at last the shadow of death has been lifted from over our brother, son and uncle."

He added: "I am also grateful to all the people that have made representations and campaigned on my brother's behalf, including the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, parliamentarians, European leaders and the coalition of NGOs who have all campaigned tirelessly for this day.

"At last, this 18 years of nightmare appears to be coming to an end."

Later, he said: ""My mother is longing to see him, to hold him in her arms and she will believe it when it happens."

The Prince of Wales, who raised the Briton's plight with the president during a recent visit to the country, welcomed today's news.

In a brief statement, Clarence House said: "The Prince of Wales is very pleased with, and grateful for, the president's decision."

But the family of Mr Khan reacted angrily to the news.

Family lawyer Malik Rab Nawaz Noon described the decision as a " complete injustice" and said the family would be seeking to get the order suspended.

Hussain was just 18 when he left West Yorkshire in December 1988 to visit relatives in Pakistan.

He was taking a break from serving as a soldier in the Territorial Army.

Three days after flying out from Heathrow, Hussain, who was brought to Britain as a baby by his parents, took a train from his aunt's home in Karachi to Rawalpindi, where he took a taxi to his family in the village of Bhubar.

Hussain maintains the driver tried to sexually assault him. Khan pulled out a gun and, during a struggle, the weapon went off and he was fatally injured.

He drove off in the taxi and turned himself in to the first policeman he saw.

In 1996 Hussain was acquitted at the Lahore High Court.

A week later it was declared that some of the alleged offences came within the jurisdiction of Islamic law and his case was referred to the Federal Sharia Court, which reversed the decision of the High Court and served Hussain with the death penalty.

Legal struggle

1978 Mirza Tahir Hussain leaves Pakistan with his family and settles in Leeds.

December 1988 He sets off to visit family in Pakistan. Takes a taxi to Bhubar and struggles with taxi driver Jamshed Khan, who is killed. Mr Hussain reports incident to police but is arrested.

September 1989 A sessions court in Islamabad sentences him to death for murder. He is also convicted of highway robbery.

November 1992 High Court orders a retrial.

April 1994 Sessions court in Islamabad sentences him to life.

May 1996 High Court acquits him of murder, but later refers the case to the Federal Sharia Court, which has jurisdiction over highway robbery.

May 1998 Sharia Court sentences him to death by two votes to one.

December 2003 Supreme Sharia Court of Pakistan rejects his appeal.

May 2006 President Musharraf issues first of three stays of execution.

October 2006 Another stay is granted, after plea from Prince Charles.

November 2006 Sentence commuted to life.