Pakistan heads for breach of international law after Supreme Court declines to intervene in hanging of mentally ill prisoner

Pakistan (Reprieve) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court today dismissed an appeal brought by lawyers for a severely mentally ill prisoner, who now faces execution in as little as a week’s time.

Lawyers for Imdad Ali, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, argued that he should not be executed as to do so would violate both Pakistani and international law.  Mr Ali came within hours of execution last week, despite prison doctors having assessed him as being “insane”, including on the night before the execution.

Yet today, Supreme Court justices dismissed the appeal, claiming that a large proportion of Pakistani prisoners suffer from mental illness and they “cannot let everyone go.”  The judges conceeded that Imdad was mentally ill but concluded that they would dismiss the appeal because the case had already been considered by the Court and – in their view – nothing had changed.

Mr Ali’s execution received a last-minute stay from the Supreme Court last week, but with that stay now expired, he could receive a new ‘black warrant’ and face execution as early as next Tuesday (4 October).  Just hours before his scheduled hanging last week, Mr Ali’s severe mental illness meant he was unaware that he was due to be executed.

The Pakistani Government is now the only body with the ability to halt Mr Ali’s execution.  Mr Ali’s lawyers have sent a mercy petition to Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain with testimony from medical experts. The petition provides an array of medical evidence for the President to consider, such as a statement from psychiatric consultant Dr Feroze Khan, who examined Mr Ali’s mental health and recommended that he be transferred to a mental health facility for active psychiatric treatment.

the-gallowsA statement issued by 14 of Pakistan’s leading psychiatrists also warns that executing Mr Ali would run contrary to Pakistani law. The experts, including Dr Malik Hussain Mubbasshar, Professor Emeritus at Lahore’s University of Health Sciences, said that: “[The] Law does not allow such execution of prisoners suffering from this nature of mental disorder in which the prisoner is having a psychotic illness and is unable to know why he is being executed and what will be the consequence of this punishment.”

Mr Ali comes from an extremely poor family. His family began to notice signs of mental illness as long ago as 1998 – but they could not afford to pay for private medical assessments, which could have identified his mental illness, and possible treatments, earlier. Following his initial detention, his mental illness has been exacerbated by 14 years in overcrowded prison cells and lengthy periods of solitary confinement.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, Deputy Director of the death penalty team at international human rights charity Reprieve said: “It is indisputable that Imdad suffers from serious mental illness.  There is therefore no doubt that, should Pakistan execute him, it will be committing a grave violation of both Pakistani and international law.  It is shocking that the system has failed Imdad at every turn – right the way up to the Supreme Court.  The Pakistan Government must immediately halt Imdad’s execution, and undertake a comprehensive review into how someone who is clearly mentally unfit to be executed has been allowed to come so near to the noose.”


[Update]

Pakistan says it is seeking ways to limit the scope of the death penalty, amid fears for a mentally ill prisoner who faces hanging as early as next week.

Speaking on Monday at an event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the first secretary of Pakistan’s Permanent Mission to the UN said the government was examining the country’s penal code to determine whether the death penalty could be “narrowed”, saying: “We are looking at the option of enhancing the duration of life sentence instead of awarding death sentences.” She added: “Pakistan remains fully committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all our citizens.”

Pakistan has executed some 419 people since the lifting of a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, making it one of the world’s most prolific executing states. Research last year by Reuters and human rights organization Reprieve found that  – despite a claim by the Pakistani government to be targeting ‘terrorists’  – fewer than one in six of those prisoners who had been hanged could be linked to militancy.

Among those currently facing execution is Imdad Ali, a former electrician who is severely mentally ill. Yesterday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Mr Ali to stop his hanging, which had been scheduled to take place last week. Ruling that Imdad’s execution could go ahead, the Court said that a large proportion of prisoners in Pakistan suffer from mental illness and that they “cannot let everyone go.” He could now be hanged as early as next week, despite a prison medical report from earlier this month describing him as “insane.”

The execution of mentally ill people is prohibited under Pakistani and international law. Yesterday, several UN human rights experts urged Pakistan to halt Mr Ali’s execution, while Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission have also called for the hanging to be stopped.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“While it’s encouraging to hear that Pakistan’s government may finally be turning away from its recent shameful spree of executions, the authorities must act now to prevent another illegal hanging. Imdad Ali could be executed within days, despite the government’s own doctors having declared him ‘insane’ – his hanging would be a grave breach of Pakistani and international law. If Pakistan’s leaders are serious about scaling back the death penalty, they must start right away, and call off Imdad’s execution.”

 

This report prepared by Reprieve.