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Mentally ill man granted stay of execution in Pakistan

Imdad Ali's case will be urgently reviewed after several rights groups lambasted the decision to hang him

Mentally ill man granted stay of execution in Pakistan

Activists from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demonstrate against the death penalty in Islamabad in this file photo. (Photo by AFP)

In an ongoing fracas in the Pakistani legal system about the nature of schizophrenia, a mentally-ill man who was sentenced to hang has been granted a temporary reprieve.

Imdad Ali, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after he was convicted of murdering a religious teacher in 2002. His execution was postponed on Oct. 31 after his wife Safia Bano filed an urgent petition to review Ali's case before the sentence was carried out on Nov. 2.

His death warrant was issued last week after the Supreme Court ruled that, because schizophrenia was a "recoverable disease," it did not fall within the definition of a mental disorder, a decision that drew the ire of international legal and rights groups.

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Ali’s lawyers, like the rights groups, maintain that their client is unfit to be executed since his illness means he is unable to understand his crime or punishment. His case review will begin in the second week of November.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that the Supreme Court had disregarded universally recognized diagnostic tools, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as well as Pakistani law on mental health, and instead relied upon Indian case law.

The rights commission said the court ruling also sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of accused persons with schizophrenia and called upon the president to intervene in the case.

On Oct. 28, Amnesty International weighed in to defend international laws on mental disability which are "important safeguards."

"It is utterly reprehensible if this Supreme Court judgment leads to the execution of Imdad Ali, who has been clearly diagnosed as mentally ill," said Champa Patel, Amnesty’s South Asia program director, in a statement.

Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, a nonprofit that offers legal aid to victims of human rights abuse, called the ruling "outrageous" and said it flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge.

"It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition," Foa said, demanding that Pakistan’s president intervene.

Pakistan reinstated the death penalty and established military courts after suffering its deadliest-ever extremist attack, when gunmen stormed a school in Peshawar in 2014 and killed more than 150 people — mostly children.

Hangings were initially reinstated only for those convicted of terrorism, but later extended to all capital offences. So far, over 400 prisoners have been hung and there are 8,000 more on death row.

The Catholic Church in Pakistan has urged the government to reinstate its moratorium on the death penalty. 

Earlier, Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of National Commission for Justice and Peace, the Pakistan Church’s human rights body, told ucanews.com: "We strongly oppose capital punishment, especially so since the legal system in Pakistan is flawed ... The Catholic Church values human sanctity and believes nobody should have the right to take life." 

A new report by Justice Project Pakistan and Yale Law School issued in September said Pakistan's criminal legal system is riddled with errors that prevent it from adjudicating capital cases fairly.

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