Leeds man Mirza Tahir Hussain, sentenced to death under Sharia law 18 years ago, has been granted a further stay of execution until 1 October.

The article below, which I wrote and first published in May of this year, provides a background to the case.

It was nearly dusk when Mirza Hussain reached Rawalpindi.

He had arrived in Karachi the previous day and had stayed overnight there, setting off before noon to visit relatives.

The 18 year old British-Pakistani was a long way from his home in Leeds, where he had lived since migrating to England with his parents as a boy.

He had been educated and brought up there and had trained in the British Territorial Army.

His ultimate destination was Buhbar, a village in Chakwal district, about 56 miles south of Islamabad.

Mirza had been born there and he looked forward to spending Christmas with members of his family, some of whom he had not seen in many years.

The only way to get there from Rawalpindi, however, was by taxi and, initially, he could not find a driver willing to take him.

Tired from his journey, and apprehensive at the prospect of having to spend the night in a strange city, he eventually became involved in a conversation with Janshir Khan, who agreed to take him to Buhbar for 500 rupees.

It was a ride that was to change the young man’s life forever.

As they approached the village of Mandra, Khan allegedly stopped the car and made a sexual proposition to Mirza.

When the youth refused, the driver produced a gun and assaulted him.

In the ensuing scuffle the firearm went off and Khan was shot.

Mirza kept his head and did what any innocent person would have done had the incident occurred in England.

He drove to the nearest police station.

But, as he was soon to discover to his cost, the police in Pakistan do not operate the way they do in England and Mirza was immediately arrested.

When Khan later died, the boy was charged with his murder, tried, convicted and, in September 1989, sentenced to death by the Session Court.

Upon appeal in November 1992 the High Court in Lahore revoked the death penalty in the light of allegations that the police had fabricated evidence and introduced false witnesses.

The case was returned to the lower court for retrial but Hussain was again convicted.

This time he received a life sentence.

A second appeal was made to the High Court and on May 20 1996 he was acquitted.

Pakistan, however, operates a dual legal system; as well as the secular court, which acquitted him, there is also the Islamic, or Sharia, judiciary.

The following week, as he awaited his release, the case was referred to the Federal Shariat Court on the grounds that the offence with which he had been charged – “haraahbah, or robbery with murder – came under its jurisdiction.

On August 1998 the Shariat Court found
Tahir Mirza Hussain guilty by a split 2-1 verdict and he was again sentenced to death, despite the fact that the system under which he was tried requires an eye-witness or a confession, and the prosecution had neither.

Abdul Waheed Siddiqui, the dissenting judge, said that Hussain was “an innocent, raw youth”, who knew nothing of “the mischief and filth in which the police of this country is engrossed”, and that the police had fabricated evidence in “a shameless manner”.

Mirza has been detained in Islamabad’s notorious Adiala jail for 18 years and was due to be hanged on June 1, two days before his 36th birthday.

After direct appeals by the UK Government and the European Parliament, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has intervened and a fresh stay of execution has been granted, allowing the condemned man’s family another month to negotiate a “blood money” deal.

However, even if that is possible, Mirza will remain in prison indefinitely.

Kahn’s family have reportedly rejected a previous offer of £18000 made six years ago. (Don Galloway 27 May 2006)

In response to news of his brother’s latest reprieve, Amjad Hussain said:

“While this further stay of one month gives me and my family a little relief, it is not enough and in many ways it is extending the uncertainty and agony my brother and all of us have now lived with for 18 years.

“We did not ask for this stay. It shows that my brother’s case has got the attention of the Pakistan authorities, but it seems they are still undecided as to whether President Musharraf will step in and stop an innocent man being executed or whether they will let this barbaric punishment go ahead.

“My brother did not commit the crime of murder that he has been convicted of. His trial was unfair and his detention in Pakistan for the last 18 years has destroyed all our lives. Tony Blair must intervene directly now, and I implore President Musharraf to end our agony and commute the sentence immediately.”

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock added:

“This stay is not enough. It does not address the facts that there are serious doubts about the safety of Mirza Tahir Hussain’s conviction and that he still faces execution in a matter of weeks.

“We will continue to press the Pakistani authorities, for as long as it takes, until we know that Mirza Tahir Hussain will not, at any time, be executed. And we expect the UK Government to do the same.”

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