LAHORE   -  Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar on Saturday took notice of reports regarding the scheduled execution of Khizar Hayat, a mentally-ill prisoner on death row, and announced to suspend his sentence till further orders.

The chief justice also fixed the matter for hearing on Monday (tomorrow).

Earlier in the day, Hayat’s mother Iqbal Bano had moved the court calling for the suspension of his death sentence on the grounds of mental illness.

Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) Punjab has also demanded President of Pakistan to halt execution of Khizar Hayat scheduled to be hanged on January 15.

The death warrants of Khizar Hayat had been issued by a court on January 10 this month setting execution date as January15. Khizar was arrested on October 23, 2001 for fatally shooting his fellow police officer and best friend Ghulam Ghous.

Khizar had been serving as a police officer in a village where he lived with his wife and children. Those who knew him described him as a kind man, but ‘very slow” and easily manipulated, president of the PPS said.

Accused had fallen under the influence of a local spiritual healer who fraudulently convinced him to register his land and property in his name. Under his influence, Khizar was eventually implicated for fatally shooting his friend and fellow police officer, Ghulam Ghous.

Khizar pleaded not guilty during his trial, but his lawyer failed to introduce any evidence or call a single witness in his clients defence. Khizar was eventually sentenced to death in 2003. Despite documentary evidence of Khizar’s mental illness, the courts have dismissed his appeals repeatedly.

In December 2018, the Lahore High Court dismissed a petition seeking Khizar’s transfer to a mental health facility, stating that ‘emotional disorders of like nature were not viewed as factors sufficient enough to impede execution making way for another execution warrant. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) then ordered the relevant authorities to refrain from issuing Khizar’s black warrant until the matter is decided by the Supreme Court. However, jail authorities issued his execution warrant on January 10, in clear violation of NCHR’s orders, said Dr. Usman Amin Hotiyana who is serving as Assistant Professor Psychiatry Department of Mayo Hospital while addressing a press conference at Lahore Press Club.

Iqbal Bano the mother of the accused was also present on the occasion with tears in her eyes.

Dr Hotiyana observed that Pakistan had signed international treaties, such as the ICCPR, which prohibit the execution of mentally-ill prisoners. Islamic jurisprudence also disallows the death penalty for the mentally-ill people.

Jail medical record shows that Khizar first started exhibiting psychiatric symptoms’ in February 2008, although the seeds of paranoid schizophrenia were sown long before that. By September, his illness had become severe enough to warrant a month-long hospital stay in the jail. Since then, he has constantly been prescribed powerful anti-psychotic medications such as Risperidone.

Khizar’s mental health has deteriorated to the point where he believes that the world is coming to an end because the Americans landed on the moon, and the moon is now having a dire effect on the world. He believes that solutions to the world’s problems are to be found in the toilet of his cell, through its special connection to the Earth. Khizar is unable to take care of his body, often dressing in filthy clothes, disrobing completely or throwing food and faeces out of his cell.

Khizar’s mental illness has caused him considerable physical suffering too. Jail records show that in 2009, he was admitted to a public hospital with severe head injuries and required urgent surgery.

In early 2009, Khizar’s mother requested that her son be transferred to a proper medical facility to receive treatment. Her requests had fallen on deaf ears. Khizar has spent the last six years alone in his cell in the hospital, effectively living in solitary confinement, despite the fact that punishment for the mentally-ill is not permitted under Pakistani law; not even for the most heinous offences.

As a member state of the United Nations, the government of Pakistan has ratified a number of international human rights treaties that grant rights and special protection to persons suffering from mental illness. These include: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), The United Nations Human Rights Committee has recognised in various judgments, including in R.S v Trinidad and Tobago (684/96) that the execution of mentally-ill prisoners is prohibited as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 6 and 7, of which Pakistan became a party in 2010.

In July 2015, four special rapporteurs of the UN urged the government of Pakistan to halt Khizer’s execution as it would be inconsistent with international human rights law. Remarking on Khizar’s plight, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health Dainius Puras said “We call on authorities of Pakistan to protect the right to health of Khizar, and other inmates on death row with severe psychosocial disabilities, irrespective of their legal situation, guaranteeing their access to the health services required by their situation”.