Briton home after 18 years in Pakistan jail

Updated: 2006-11-18 09:05
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LONDON - A British man sentenced to death in Pakistan for a murder he says he did not commit returned home to London's Heathrow Airport on Friday, grey-haired after 18 years in a Pakistani jail.

Briton home after 18 years in Pakistan jail
Mirza Tahir Hussain (L), and Jamshaid Khan (R) are seen in this May 20, 2006 combination file photo. The British man who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for a murder he says he didn't commit was released on Friday after 18 years in jail.[Reuters]Briton home after 18 years in Pakistan jail

"I am glad to be back home," Mirza Tahir Hussain told reporters after hugging his brother Amjad who had campaigned tirelessly for his release.

President Pervez Musharraf commuted his death sentence on Wednesday to a life term after the British government and rights groups pleaded for clemency for the 36-year-old from Leeds in northern England.

In a written statement, Hussain 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. My thoughts remain with all the prisoners I have left behind."

Hussain was released and allowed to fly back to Britain because he had already served the equivalent of a life sentence.

Amjad told a London press conference after his release: "Obviously it has been a terrible nightmare and ordeal and I am glad that it is now over.

"He will need help, counseling and rehabilitation. He has paid a terrible price for something that he never did."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is due to visit Pakistan soon, and heir to the throne Prince Charles had raised the case with Musharraf in recent weeks.

Hussain, a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, was convicted of killing taxi driver Jamshaid Khan in Islamabad in 1988. He said the man had tried to sexually assault him and then threatened him with a gun, which went off when they struggled.

He was originally acquitted by Pakistan's High Court but an Islamic court sentenced him to death in 1998. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003, and a review petition was rejected a year later.

The government put off his hanging several times.

Authorities had hoped a blood-money settlement, permitted under Islamic law, could be reached with the dead man's family, but the relatives refused, saying it would be dishonorable.

Rights groups and British parliamentarians said Hussain was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, as did a dissenting judge in the Islamic court that convicted him.