SC commutes death penalty of two mentally handicapped to life sentence

By: News Desk      Published: 03:24 PM, 10 Feb, 2021
SC commutes death penalty of two mentally handicapped to life sentence

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court’s (SC) Lahore Registry on Wednesday commuted the death sentence awarded to two mentally retarded prisoners to life imprisonment, reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

A five-member larger bench of the apex court also ordered the jail authorities to shift both Imdad Ali and Kaneezan Bibi to the hospital.

The case of three mentally retarded persons namely Kanizan Bibi, Imdad Ali and Ghulam Abbas, each of whom was suffering from schizophrenia, a mental disorder that causes symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations and paranoia, was first taken up for hearing by former chief justice Saqib Nisar in 2018.

Former CJ Saqib Nisar had taken suo moto notice in 2018 after his predecessor, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, had said in 2016 that schizophrenia was not a permanent disorder.

Each of them had exhausted options of appeal, while their mercy petitions to the President of Pakistan had also been rejected.

Finally, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry, headed by Justice Manzoor Malik, took up their case.

Justice Project Pakistan, a non-profit legal action firm, has been defending these mentally ill prisoners, arguing that hanging such persons would be a violation of human dignity and is also against international obligations. 

In the past, the execution of mentally ill persons was stopped at the eleventh hour due to the court’s intervention. So far around 100 such persons have been executed; Munir Hussain was the last one.

The case under question made its way to the SC when suo moto notice was taken over Kanizan Bibi case. She was sentenced to death in 1991. Her mental health started to deteriorate soon afterwards.

She was transferred to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health where her diagnosis of schizophrenia was confirmed by successive medical boards. She has lost ability to understand her surroundings. At times, she has been unable to even feed and clothe herself. Hospital staff confirmed in its reports that she had not spoken a word in all the years she spent in their care. Kanizan was hospitalised in 2006.

Imdad Ali also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Sentenced to death in 2002, Imdad has spent nearly 20 years on death row, with four years in solitary confinement in the jail hospital. His condition has continued to worsen.

Imdad comes from an extremely poor family and after he was convicted, he could not afford the opinions of private medical consultants which would detail his mental illness in court. Imdad was eventually sentenced to death for shooting a religious teacher with a rifle in 2001.

Ghulam Abbas exhibits strong evidence of epilepsy and schizophrenia including symptoms such as delusions and auditory hallucinations, as well as an intellectual disability. Arrested in 2006, he has spent almost 15 years on death row.