Pakistan Set to Hang Acquitted British Man

The Associated Press
Saturday, May 20, 2006; 2:25 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- After spending half his life in a Pakistani jail, Tahir Mirza Hussain is scheduled to hang on his 36th birthday for killing a taxi driver _ even though a court acquitted him 10 years ago.

Hussain, a British-Pakistani, claims he is innocent. He was cleared by a secular court but retried and found guilty in an Islamic one. He now faces execution June 1 unless President Gen. Pervez Musharraf intervenes.

His muddled case, spanning two decades, is emblematic of Pakistan's corrupt and bifurcated legal system, described by a leading rights activist as "flawed" and in desperate need of reform.

Amnesty International has called for a retrial, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett have urged Musharraf to reconsider Hussain's sentence. He has already served 18 years in a cramped, dark cell, mostly at the notorious Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi near the capital.

"What does he have to do to get justice?" said his elder brother Amjad Hussain, who is visiting from Leeds, northern England, to lobby for Hussain's life. "How could you retry a man who was acquitted?"

Mirza Hussain's family migrated to England from Pakistan when he was a boy. In December 1988, after training in Britain's reserve army, the 18-year-old came back to visit relatives living near Chakwal, about 56 miles south of Islamabad. On his way, he claims, his taxi driver stopped the car, produced a gun and physically and sexually assaulted him. In the struggle that followed the gun went off and the driver, Jamshad Khan, was fatally injured.

Hussain voluntarily reported the incident to police and was arrested. In September 1989, a sessions court sentenced him to death.

The high court revoked the death penalty in November 1992 due to serious discrepancies in the prosecution's case and ordered a retrial. In April 1994 his sentence was reduced to life in prison; in May 1996 the high court acquitted Hussain of all charges.

But a week later, while he was waiting for release, his case was referred to the Islamic, or Sharia, court on the basis that the crime he was charged of _ "haraabah," or armed robbery _ came under its jurisdiction.

In August 1998, in a split 2-1 verdict, the Islamic court's judges sentenced him to death again, although the legal provision he was tried under required a confession or witness to the crime. The prosecution had neither.

The dissenting judge, Abdul Waheed Siddiqui, gave a scathing assessment of the prosecution in a 59-page judgment. He described Hussain as "an innocent, raw youth not knowing the mischief and filth in which the police of this country is engrossed." He said police introduced false witnesses and "fabricated evidence in a shameless manner" against Hussein, who had no criminal record.

Amnesty and other rights groups have condemned the trial as unfair, but Pakistan's government maintains Hussain has been treated with due process. In 2005, Musharraf, an advocate of moderate Islam, rejected his mercy petition.

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