LAHORE -  The Lahore High Court yesterday stayed execution of a mentally-ill death-row prisoner, Khizar Hayat, and suspended his black warrants issued by the district and sessions judge, days before he was set to face the gallows.

Khizar Hayat, a 55-year-old former police officer, was sentenced to death in 2003 for shooting a colleague in Shadbagh police precinct in 2001.

Iqbal Bano, mother of Hayat, had filed the petition through Barrister Sara Belal of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) and submitted that he had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia but his black warrants had been issued by the sessions judge. She said his execution would be in violation of local and international laws.

The counsel further said that jail authorities obtained black warrants of Hayat despite his petition was already pending before the same bench in which Home Department was directed to submit reply, the lawyer added.

A medical board previously formed by the High Court confirmed that the prisoner was mentally unfit for execution. She pleaded the court to suspend the death warrants and stay the execution of Hayat set for January 17.

A division bench headed by Justice Shahid Hameed Dar stayed his execution and sought a reply from the Home Department. Justice Dar observed that it would be appropriate to wait for a decision by the Supreme Court in case of Imdad Ali, another mentally-ill prisoner, to determine how to proceed in the Hayat’s case.

The bench adjourned further hearing until January 30.

AFP adds: The United Nations has previously called on Pakistan to protect mentally-ill inmates, singling out Hayat as having "psychosocial disabilities".

JPP spokesman Waseem Waheed hailed the reprieve, but urged the Supreme Court to set standards for mentally-ill prisoners. "We are relieved to hear that Khizar has been granted a temporary reprieve by the Honourable Court," Waheed said.

"However... until the Supreme Court sets the standard for the way the law handles [mentally-ill prisoners], we will continue to litter our death-row with many Imdads and Khizars."

Since lifting its moratorium on executions in December 2014, Pakistan has hanged some 420 prisoners, overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the world's third largest executioner nation after China and Iran.

But according to a report by British charity Reprieve, 94 percent of Pakistan's executions have been for non-terrorism offences, despite the government's claim that capital punishment was reinstated to combat militancy.