Top court’s ruling refers to outdated Indian case to justify stance on internationally recognized mental illness.
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that schizophrenia does not qualify as a mental disorder, all but guaranteeing that mentally ill prisoner Imdad Ali could soon face the gallows.
Imdad Ali, aged around 50, was sentenced to death for the murder of a cleric in 2002. He had been scheduled to hang on Sept. 20 in Vehari despite having been diagnosed with schizophrenia but was granted a last-minute stay of execution from the Supreme Court, pending ongoing hearings. With the hearings concluded and the court claiming his condition is “not permanent,” it is unlikely Ali could escape execution—possibly as early as Oct. 26—without executive intervention.
The top court’s judgment states that schizophrenia is not a permanent condition because it can vary based on “level of stress.” It adds: “It is, therefore, a recoverable disease, which, in all the cases, does not fall within the definition of ‘mental disorder’ as defined in the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001.”
The judges assigned to the case sought to justify their verdict by referring to an Indian ruling from the 1980s that had said: “schizophrenia is what schizophrenia does.”
The Justice Project Pakistan, which is providing Ali with counsel, last month sent a mercy petition to President Mamnoon Hussain along with testimony from medical experts. A medical assessment conducted at the jail by Dr. Tahir Feroze Khan at the time found that Ali was suffering from “active psychosis” and that his illness appeared to be “treatment resistant.”
Maya Foa, a director of international charity Reprieve, said: “It is outrageous for Pakistan’s Supreme Court to claim that schizophrenia is not a mental illness, and flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge, including Pakistan’s own mental health laws.” Earlier, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, had noted that if Pakistan were to execute Ali, it would be “committing a grave violation of both Pakistani and international law.”
Pakistan has executed 425 people since reintroducing the death penalty in 2014, following a massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar where Taliban gunmen killed over 150 people—mostly children.
As a last resort, his wife told Reuters, she would attempt to seek forgiveness for her husband from the heirs of the murder victim under Pakistan’s qisas and diyat laws. “We have contacted some people who are close to his family,” she told the news agency. “But they have so far refused to meet us.”