ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan Thursday accepted the review petitions of mentally ill prisoners, who are on death row, and appointed amicus curiae to assist the court in this matter.

A five-member special bench of the apex court headed by Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik conducted hearing of the cases of four mentally ill prisoners on death row including Ghulam Abbas, Imdad Ali, Kanizan Bibi and Khizer Hayat. The petitions were filed by the relatives and the Justice Project Pakistan against the execution of death sentence.

Justice Manzoor said that this is a serious matter which could not be decided without the assistance of experts. Therefore, the bench ordered Additional Attorney General Sajid Illyas Bhatti and the Additional Advocate General, Punjab, Qasim Chohan to provide the names of the psychiatrist and psychologists to constitute a medical board for determination the mental condition of Ghulam Abbas, who was granted a stay by the former Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa in May 2019 on a petition seeking a fresh medical evaluation after it emerged that he was being treated by strong anti-psychotic drugs by jail authorities. Sentenced to death in 2006, Abbas has a family history of mental illness and has also exhibited evidence of epilepsy.

The bench also appointed a renowned psychiatrist and professor Dr. Mowadat Hussain Rana and Advocate Supreme Court Haider Rasul Mirza as amicus curiae to assist the court.

The State has filed the review petition to examine the case of Ghulam Abbas, who is on death row, but is insane. The counsel for the heirs of Ahmed Raza contended that how come the State is aggrieved and has filed a review petition in this case.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that the State is aggrieved because of the treaty obligation, which it had signed in 2010.

He said that the court has to determine three questions whether a person is suffering from schizophrenia can be hanged, provide the guidelines what sort of illness qualify the threshold to commute the death sentence and lastly who will determine that a person who is on death row is insane.

Imdad Ali is a former electrician from Pakistan who is mentally ill. Imdad has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and a 2013 medical report stated him to be “insane.” The court admitted the review petition filed in October 2016 for further proceedings in the case of Imdad Ali, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The review petition was filed after the SC cleared the way for Imdad’s execution, stating in its judgment that schizophrenia was “not a mental illness” but a “recoverable disease”. However, Imdad’s third execution warrant was prevented from being issued following public outcry, a fresh petition from his lawyers, and a review filed by the government of Punjab. Coming from an extremely impoverished family, Imdad has spent 18 years on death row, with four of them in solitary confinement.

In the matter of Kanizan Bibi, the larger bench acknowledged the submission of Kanizan Bibi’s medical report. Kanizan has spent almost thirty years on death row. She was diagnosed in 2000 with schizophrenia and has been under treatment at Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) and Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore. A recent report by the Ministry of Human Rights titled ‘Plight of Women in Pakistan’s Prisons’ also mentions Kanizan as a case study.

The court ordered the abatement of the case of Khizar Hayat, who passed away in March last year due to multiple ailments. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by jail authorities in 2008, Khizar had become severely anaemic and hypotensive. He died at Jinnah Hospital Lahore where he was admitted after he stopped taking food and medication.

The bench also stressed upon Pakistan’s obligations to mentally ill prisoners under international law and treaties. Pakistan is a signatory to international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit the execution of mentally ill prisoners.

The case was last heard nearly two years ago in October 2018 when the court had ordered fresh medical examinations of Imdad and Kanizan. Once decided, it could set a precedent and have an important bearing on the fate of mentally ill prisoners in Pakistani jails.

Later, the court deferred hearing in this matter till September 21 for further proceedings.