Update 9/19: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has stayed the execution of Imdad Ali for one week, until September 27, 2016.
While the death penalty is inherently cruel, executing an individual with psychosocial or other mental disabilities also violates Pakistan’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
“Executing people with mental health conditions is an affront to decency and serves no criminal justice purpose,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Pakistan should strengthen its justice system rather than sending people like Imdad Ali to the gallows.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee and UN special experts have determined that the execution of a person with a psychosocial disability would be in violation of the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. The UN Commission on Human Rights adopted resolutions in 1999 and 2000 urging countries that retain the death penalty not to impose it “on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder.” Pakistan is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which affirms fundamental protections for people with psychosocial disabilities.
Imdad Ali, 50, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of a religious scholar. The death sentence was confirmed by the Lahore High Court on November 7, 2008, and by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 19, 2015. A mercy petition filed on his behalf was dismissed by the president of Pakistan on November 17, 2015. A petition to halt the execution on grounds of Imdad Ali’s mental health condition was dismissed by the Lahore High Court on August 26, 2016.
In 2004, Imdad Ali was diagnosed in jail with psychosis by the medical officer. In November, 2012, a medical report was conducted upon the request of the superintendent of District Jail Vehari, which diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. The medical report stated: “There was history of self-talk, gesturing, posturing, odd ideas and beliefs, bizarre ideations and lack of concern for his death sentence.” The medical report further states that Imdad Ali’s condition is a “chronic and disabling psychiatric illness. This illness significantly impairs the person’s rational thinking and decision making capabilities.”
According to his lawyers, Imdad Ali has been in solitary confinement for the past three years. International treaty bodies and human rights experts, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee Against Torture, and the UN special rapporteur on torture, have said that prolonged solitary confinement may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment prohibited by international human rights treaties. Because solitary confinement may severely exacerbate previously existing mental health conditions, the special rapporteur on torture believes that imposition of solitary confinement on persons with psychosocial disabilities of any duration is cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row – one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution. Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society, such as Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy. In many cases, particularly those involving the poor, accused persons facing capital punishment do not receive adequate assistance of counsel. In 2015, authorities in Lahore suspended the execution of Abdul Basit, who is paralyzed from the waist down.
“Ever since ending its unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in late 2014, the Pakistani government has been widening the circle of those put to death,” Adams said. “The government should act now and explicitly reject the odious practice of executing people with psychosocial disabilities.”