Pakistan names date for execution as pressure grows over prince's visit

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has pledged to do all he can to save a Briton condemned to death in Pakistan for a crime of which he almost certainly innocent.

Almost simultaneously, the Pakistani authorities announced that Mirza Tahir Hussain's execution has been rescheduled for 1 November, leaving just two weeks to save him.

Replying to a question in the House of Commons, Mr Blair warned that it would be "very serious" if Mr Hussain is executed. "We have raised this constantly with the Pakistani authorities," he said. "I raised it personally with President [Pervez] Musharraf when he was here a couple of weeks ago. I hope even at this stage there is an intervention to ensure this does not take place. I think it would be very serious if it does."

The execution date for the 36-year-old from Leeds coincides with a planned visit to Pakistan by the Prince of Wales, his first to the country, during which he is scheduled to meet General Musharraf, and there have been calls for the trip to be cancelled.

This is the first time that Mr Blair has commented so directly on Mr Hussain's case in public, and his intervention, even at so late a stage, will raise hopes he can still be saved.

Mr Hussain was convicted of murdering a Pakistani taxi driver in 1988, even though a judge at the final hearing ruled he had been framed by Pakistani police. Officers "fabricated evidence in a shameless manner" against him, said Mr Justice Abdul Wahis Siddiqui. The prosecution "introduced false witnesses", including one who "told a blatant lie" on the stand.

The secular courts found Mr Hussain not guilty, under a legal system similar to that used in England, only for him to be taken before an Islamic sharia court and condemned to death.

Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said it would be "monstrous" for Mr Hussain to be hanged and he urged the Prince of Wales to cancel his trip unless the execution was called off.

Senior Pakistani officials who chose to remain anonymous said the execution would go ahead in spite of any representations from Britain, because General Musharraf does not want to be seen bowing to British pressure. They did not comment on the probability of a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Blair said: "There is a limit to what the President can do but I hope he can use the powers he has." Article 45 of the Pakistan constitution gives the President the power to overrule courts.

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