In Pakistan’s legal system, while the wealthy and influential escape through the loopholes, the poor, mentally ill , powerless and members of religious minorities are rushed to the gallows. However, in the case of Khizar Hayat, a death-row prisoner diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the Lahore High Court on Thursday stayed the execution and suspended the warrants issued for his execution by a district and sessions judge in Lahore.

Barrister Sarah Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) representing Hayat argued that he had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia confirmed by a medical board, and executing him would violate local and international laws. While the facts of the case clearly suggest that there are no legal grounds to execute the prisoner, the judge observed that it would be appropriate to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Imdad Ali, a mentally ill prisoner, to determine how to proceed in Hayat’s case. The judge cannot be faulted for this cautious attitude. While in this case the ruling should not confirm his execution, in another case, if precedent is created for exempting a mentally ill person, it will be used and abused by criminals pretending to be ill, or legal advisors and Judges who are open to bribery or are provided with tampered evidence.

However, the cases of Imdad Ali and Khizar Hayat expose the slow process of our legal system and its flaws. The victims end up being the poor and ill and improper rulings on past cases, as well as the presence of the archaic death penalty, seals their fate.

Khizar Hayat was a former police officer and was diagnosed by jail authorities as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in 2008. Throughout his time in prison he has experienced severe hallucinations and fits that have made him a target for violence from fellow inmates. Instead of transferring Khizar to an independent medical facility, prison authorities keep him under solitary confinement in the prison’s hospital room.

While we wait for the ruling on the Imdad Ali case to set precedent for how these people are treated, the situation is dire. Mentally ill prisoners are stuffed in Pakistan death row cells alongside other inmates. These death row cells, measuring 8ft x 12ft, are designed to house no more than two prisoners at a time. They currently hold on average, 6 or more prisoners for over 23 hours a day.

Executions of the mentally ill violate the right to human dignity under the Constitution. Additionally, Section 84 of the Pakistan Penal Code does not allow the state to punish any person suffering from a “disorder of his mental capabilities”. The Medical Health Ordinance was enacted in 2001 to provide protection and treatment to mentally ill prisoners, however the law has little or no implementation.