When my son Khizar was born, I held his small head in my hand and fell in love. Like all mothers, I dreamed that Khizar would grow up strong, live a good life with a wife and children, and be surrounded by love.
He did grow up, he did get married, and had children. But he is not surrounded by love. Love is hard to come by in prisons.
I never imagined that I would be visiting my only son in a jail, where I can barely recognise him.
In truth, during most of my visits to him in Kot Lakhpat Jail (Central Jail Lahore), Khizar struggles to recognise me. Schizophrenia does that to a person. Even his own mother has become a stranger to him; on bad days, he thinks I’m an enemy.
Khizar did well in school. He decided to stay in our village to become a police officer. He grew into a good-natured person who enjoyed being well-dressed, and going to early-morning prayers with me. He loved and respected Allah.
But every now and then, Khizar would withdraw into himself. Sometimes, I would find him speaking to someone in the room. There would be no one there.
Khizar met a pir who used his age and spiritual influence to take advantage of my son’s generosity. Over time, this man filled Khizar’s head with distrust and suspicsion. He encouraged Khizar to distance himself from me, his wife, and his children.
The pir told Khizar that his uncles and others wanted to kill him. He convinced my son to sell our property and steal our belongings. Khizar gave everything to the pir and his family. My son left home and began living with the pir.
He stopped going to prayers, became angry and paranoid, and his physical appearance deteriorated. When he would come to visit us, he would shut himself in a room and burn his hands. I was afraid for him and wanted him to go to the hospital. I knew that Khizar was sick, and that this man, the pir, was making it worse.
Khizar was arrested and sentenced to death in 2003, accused of murdering one of his closest friends and a fellow police officer. I sold my jewelry to pay for a lawyer, certain that my son didn’t kill anyone.
At the trial, there was no clear evidence against Khizar, but his lawyer didn’t submit any evidence in support of him or call a single witness to defend him. Khizar was sentenced to death based upon suspicion and lack of defense.
When his case was appealed, I again borrowed money for a government lawyer to speak to the judge, but when we were called into the judge’s chamber, my lawyer didn’t speak. He did not ask a single question. He took my money and did nothing.
In Pakistan, the death penalty is for the poor. Those who can afford to buy good lawyers don’t get sentenced to death. Is that justice?
Khizar has been diagnosed by doctors with paranoid schizophrenia and placed in a section of the jail for mentally ill prisoners. It has been 14 years. He will never get better. He will never know his children, who have grown into adults. He will never again go to prayers with me.
I borrow what money I can to visit Khizar in jail, where he sits in solitary confinement. The visits are very hard for me. He no longer knows who I am. He doesn’t know where he is.
Sometimes, he has ripped his clothes and sits naked in his cell, repeating paranoid thoughts to himself out loud. I sit near him, trying to come to terms with what has become of my son – that beautiful baby with almond-shaped eyes and long lashes, who had a whole lifetime ahead of him.
I challenge anyone to watch as their son stops being able to recognise his own mother or his children – Khizar no longer knows where he is or how to talk to other people. Even with treatment, schizophrenia doesn’t go away – it just becomes manageable. There is no cure.
Whether you think that Khizar is innocent or guilty, he is still a human being, a son, a father, and he has a severe illness. I’m getting older and I am Khizar’s only family. My visits are the only care he gets.
I understand that he will never walk around a free, happy man, but I urge the Government of Pakistan to please take my son off of death row and beseech that he be moved to a medical facility that is properly trained to treat schizophrenic patients.
As narrated to Asim Rafiqui and Michael Braithewaite, who put it in form of an article.
This article is second of a three-part series, curated in collaboration with Justice Project Pakistan, in lead up to The World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10th. Read the first part here and the third here.