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Supporting British Nationals Abroad: The Death Penalty

At any one time there are 2,500 British nationals in prison around the world. Of these, on average, 12 are on death row. The offences involved range from drug offences to murder or even blasphemy. The UK is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and in cases of British nationals facing the death penalty, we make strong representations against the punishment. In 2006, three British nationals had their death sentences commuted to terms of imprisonment.

The most high profile case this year involving the death penalty was that of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British national facing execution in Pakistan for the murder of a taxi driver in 1989. In March 2006, Mr Hussain learnt that President Musharraf had turned down his clemency petition and an execution date was to be set.

During the subsequent eight months, consular staff from the British High Commission in Islamabad did all that they could to support Mr Hussain. This included weekly visits. Ministers, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary made representations to the Pakistani authorities for Mr Hussain not to be executed. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office worked very closely with NGOs such as Amnesty International, Reprieve, Fair Trials Abroad and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, as well as Parliamentarians and the EU to try to prevent Mr Hussain’s execution. Consular staff in London and Islamabad remained in close contact with Mr Hussain’s family in the UK and Pakistan. Other staff worked closely with the Pakistan authorities on the legal aspects of the case.

On 16 November 2006, the Pakistani authorities announced that President Musharraf had decided to commute Tahir Hussain's death sentence to life, on humanitarian grounds, having determined that this was legally possible. Because Mr Hussain had served 17 years in prison he was deemed to have served a life sentence and was eligible for release. Mr Hussain returned to the UK on 17 November.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • The UK abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes in 1969 and for all crimes in 1998.
  • 71 countries still retain the death penalty.
  • The UK is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and work towards its universal abolition.
  • Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Global Opportunities Fund we support a number of projects world-wide that work towards abolition.
  • At any one time there are around 12 British nationals on death row around the world and another 10 facing charges that attract the death penalty.
  • There are currently British nationals on death row in the USA, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Pakistan.
  • The last British national executed overseas that we are aware of was in the US in February 2003.
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's policy is to provide consular support to all British nationals, including dual nationals in their country of second nationality, facing the death penalty.

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