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Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is pleased to announce that Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain, who has spent the last 18 years in prison and was to be executed, has been released.

The AHRC wishes to thank all those who responded to our urgent appeals and signed the on-line petition condemning Mirza Tahir Hussian's impending execution. Your actions have contributed to sparing Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain's life and securing his release.

Yesterday, the President of Pakistan commuted the execution of Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain, who was sentenced to death by an Islamic Sharia Court for murder after he had already been acquitted by a secular court in 1996.

Mirza Tahir Hussian was acquitted by the High Court of Lahore in 1996 but was later sentenced to death by an Islamic Sharia Court in a trial that failed to meet the internationally recognised standards of fair trial. Mirza Tahir Hussian should have been released following the acquittal judgment. The AHRC believes that Mirza Tahir Hussian is a victim of Pakistan's duel court system and should be paid compensation for the years he spent in detention as a result of the unacceptable Sharia Court sentence. Under this system, Mirza Tahir Hussian was not protected from double jeopardy and has been unduly punished despite having been acquitted, including living under the threat of imminent execution.

Once again, thank you for your support.

PAKISTAN: Online petition for the release of an innocent person facing the death penalty after 18 years in prison

The president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, again rescheduled the execution of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a 36-year-old Pakistani-born British national. A black warrant was issued by the sessions court of Rawalpindi, according to which Mirza will be hanged at 3 a.m. on January 1st, 2007 in the Adiala jail, the notorious jail where Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979.

This is the fifth time that the president has deferred the implementation of the death penalty awarded by an Islamic sharia court. Mirza was 18 years old when he was arrested for the murder of a taxi driver and highway robbery in 1988. Although acquitted by the secular courts, he was then suddenly tried in an Islamic court and sentenced to death in 1998. Since then, he has been awaiting his execution in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. He has already served about 18 years in prison or half his life. The mercy petition for Mirza has been pending with Pakistan's president since 2005, but now it has been announced he will be executed on November 1after the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Mirza's case is a typical case reflecting the dual judicial system of Pakistan-the secular courts and the Islamic courts. The secular courts are generally considered the real courts of Pakistan and come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Federal Islamic Sharia Court also is under the authority of the country's Supreme Court while at the provincial level sharia courts come under the purview of the provincial high courts.

In the case of Mirza, there were no eyewitnesses nor did the accused confess to the charges before the court. However, according to the Islamic provisions of sharia law, the death penalty should be imposed only if there are "reliable eyewitness" accounts or a "confession" to the court are submitted.

In the case of Mirza, the High Court of Punjab Province acquitted him of the charges of murder and highway robbery as there was no evidence to convict him of these crimes. After the acquittal, when Mirza was waiting for his release from prison, the Federal Sharia Court suddenly became involved, stating that any highway robbery case which occurs after dusk comes under the jurisdiction of the Islamic sharia court system. This sudden interest in the case though was an abrupt departure of the previous position of the sharia courts; for from 1988 to 1996, the case of Mirza was regularly heard before the session courts and high courts, and the sharia courts never intervened and argued that they had jurisdiction in this case. When the Punjab High Court acquitted him from all charges in 1996 though, suddenly the sharia court, influenced by some Islamic extremist groups, stated that the jurisdiction of the Mirza case does not reside in the secular court system, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The duties of the Federal Sharia Court, according to the Constitution, are to review the laws of the country to ensure that the country's laws are in conformity with Islamic doctrine and to deal with appeals of cases tried under Islamic laws. The authority to reopen a case though is not proscribed in the Constitution.

The sharia court, however, illegally and unconstitutionally asserted its power and punished a young man who had already served 10 years in prison at the time of the decision of the sharia court.

Background of the case

Mirza Tahir Hussain was tried and convicted of murdering a taxi driver when he was travelling to the village of Bhubar from Rawalpindi in Punjab Province, on December 17, 1988. The taxi driver reportedly stopped the car and produced a gun, and Mirza allegedly was physically and sexually assaulted by the taxi driver. In the scuffle that ensued, the gun went off, and the taxi driver was fatally injured.

Mirza was sentenced to death in 1989 by the sessions court in Islamabad. Following an appeal, this sentence was dismissed by the Lahore High Court, which noted discrepancies in the case. The case was returned to the sessions court where Mirza was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994. Following a second appeal, the Lahore High Court then dismissed this sentence as well in 1996, and Mirza was thus acquitted of all charges against him.

A week later Mirza's case was referred to the Federal Sharia Court on charges from the original case, including robbery involving murder, which fall under Islamic offences against property law. The entire case against Mirza was subsequently reopened; and in 1998, he was sentenced to death by the Federal Sharia Court despite their acknowledgment that no robbery had taken place due to the taxi being hired. The death penalty sentence by the Federal Sharia Court was based on a split decision of 2-1 with the dissenting judge strongly recommending that Mirza be acquitted. Amnesty International believes that Mirza has not received a fair trial due to the contradictory statements of the various courts.

The Supreme Court upheld the judgement in 2003 and dismissed an appeal in 2004. A petition for clemency was sent to the president in 2005, but it was declined. The family of the taxi driver has moreover refused compensation offered by Mirza's family that is permitted under Islamic law, which could allow Mirza to be pardoned.

Human rights organisations and legislators from around the world, including Amnesty International and members of the European Parliament and British Parliament, have appealed on different occasions to the president of Pakistan to pardon the death penalty of Mirza as the trial was not fair and Mirza has already spent 18 years in prison. In addition, demonstrations and protests in numerous countries against the decision of the sharia court have taken place.

The petition

Mr. Muhammad Wasi Zafar
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
S Block, Pakistan Secretariat

Dear Mr. Muhammad Wasi Zafar,

PAKISTAN: Mirza Tahir Hussain faces execution following an unfair trial

I am writing to you to call for your urgent intervention into the case of Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain (aged 36), who is facing execution on January 1, 2007. His execution had been scheduled for October 1, 2006 but the President deferred it for one month due to the holy month of Ramadan. The President has again deferred the execution by two months until January 1, 2007. The repeated deferral of the execution is not an acceptable solution to this problem, as it causes continuing suffering to Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain and his family. The President must pardon Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain, who was sentenced to death following an unfair trial, without further delay.

I believe that Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain's right to a fair trial was violated due to the contradictory statements made by different courts in Pakistan. Even though he was acquitted of all charges against him by the Lahore High Court in 1996, the Federal Sharia Court overturned the high court judgement and sentenced him to death in 1998. He had been acquitted by the High Court due to a lack of evidence against him, however the Sharia Court has sentenced him to death regardless of the lack of evidence and in violation of procedures and jurisdiction. As the Supreme Court dismissed Mr. Hussain's appeal in 2004, at this point, only an act of clemency by the President of Pakistan can save Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain's life.

In light of above, I urge you to request that the President of Pakistan issue a pardon to Mr. Mirza Tahir Hussain, who is in great suffering after having spent 18 years in detention, while being denied his right to a fair trial.

Your urgent intervention in this case will be highly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

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