Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 16 November 2006

Death sentence 'lifted on Briton'

A British man sentenced to death by hanging in Pakistan has had his punishment commuted to a life sentence, Pakistani officials have said.

The move follows intervention in the case of Mirza Tahir Hussain, 36, of Leeds, by President Pervez Musharraf.

Hussain, who was convicted in 1989 of murdering taxi driver Jamshed Khan, could now be eligible for release.

He has always maintained he had been acting in self defence after being sexually assaulted.

"The next step we will be pushing for is an immediate release," said Sajjad Karim, who led a delegation of European Parliament members (MEPs) to lobby President Musharraf earlier this year.

I have been working with the family to secure Hussain's release and was planning a last minute plea next month which will now become a plea for his return to Leeds for Christmas
Yorkshire and Humber MEP Edward McMillan-Scott

"Hopefully, Mirza will be returning back home to Leeds very, very soon."

Yorkshire and Humber MEP Edward McMillan-Scott said he planned to go to Pakistan in December to try to ensure Hussain was home before Christmas.

He said: "I am delighted with the news.

"I have been working with the family to secure Hussain's release and was planning a last minute plea next month which will now become a plea for his return to Leeds for Christmas."

Greg Mulholland, Hussain's local MP, said: "Clearly this sounds like an extremely positive development. We hope that this turns out to be the news his family has been waiting for for so long.

"What is needed now is an official statement from the Pakistani authorities confirming this and, crucially, confirming that Mirza Tahir Hussain will now finally be released and allowed to return to his family in Leeds where he belongs."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We haven't been officially notified, but we welcome reports from the government of Pakistan that the sentence has been commuted to life on humanitarian grounds."

Royal intervention

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad said no further details were immediately available about where he would serve the sentence or whether he might be freed at some point.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International, along with both UK and Euro MPs, had previously demanded that Hussain be pardoned.

The request for his life to be spared was reportedly made by Prince Charles, who recently toured Pakistan.

Hussain's brother Amjad said his family would react to the news later on Thursday.

He said they had not yet been given official confirmation from President Musharraf's office, but expected to receive it around 1030 GMT.

He said: "The decision has not been officially confirmed... but if it is we are relieved, happy and are thankful to President Musharraf."

Humanitarian pleas

Prime Minister Tony Blair previously said he had raised the matter personally with Mr Musharraf during the president's visit to the UK.

Hussain's hanging was due to take place during the five-day royal trip by the prince and the Duchess of Cornwall in October, but it was initially delayed until 31 December after the prince wrote to Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz about the case.

He had been cleared by a high court in 1996 but an Islamic Sharia court took the case over and imposed the death penalty.

The sentence could have been revoked if Khan's family had accepted an offer of blood money, but they refused.

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