LAHORE: A sessions court on Saturday stayed the execution of a ‘mentally ill’ condemned prisoner and ordered the superintendent of the Kot Lakhpat central jail to submit next week a comprehensive report along with the prisoner’s latest medical record.

Sixty-three-year-old Saleem Ahmad, who was sentenced to death for killing his sister, was scheduled to be hanged on Nov 7 and the sessions court had issued a black warrant for his execution.

However, District and Sessions Judge Abid Hussain Qureshi suspended the black warrant on a plea of Barrister Sarah Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan who challenged the execution.

“For fair administration of justice, the operation of black warrants issued by this court for execution of said condemned prisoner be suspended,” the judge stated in the order.

Barrister Belal argued that the prisoner was mentally challenged and doctors declared him a psychiatric case. Therefore, she said, the execution could not be implemented as per the Pakistan Prison Rules.

The lawyer also presented before the court the central jail’s medical officer’s letter to inspector general of prisons regarding the mental condition of the petitioner.

She said the jail authorities obtained his death warrant despite the fact that they kept him in isolation due to his erratic behaviour caused by his severe mental illness.

Ahmad was arrested in Lahore on July 30, 2001 for being accused of killing his sister, Nasreen Begum.

The lawyer submitted doubts about his mental health were apparent at every stage of the trial and sentence.

She said the investigating officer also testified that he came to know about Ahmad’s mental illness through his neighbours.

Even the trial court noticed on several occasions that the prisoner was talking insane and did not have any orientation in time and space, she said, adding that the Lahore Mental Hospital, however, declared him fit to stand trial in 2002 and subsequently he was sentenced to death in 2004.

Since his conviction, Ahmad had been diagnosed as “a case of psychiatric illness” by the Punjab Institute of Mental Health and had been on anti-psychotic drugs for four years. The man remained in the psychiatric cells of the central jail.

Ahmad filed an appeal before the Lahore High Court in 2013, where his state-appointed counsel did not challenge the prosecution’s version of the case and the death sentence was upheld. Later, the Supreme Court also dismissed his appeal in May this year and a mercy petition forwarded by the jail authorities was rejected on Oct 19, 2017.

In a statement, Barrister Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan welcomed the stay against the execution granted by the sessions court.

She expressed her concern over continuous issuance of death warrants against mentally challenged prisoners.

She said, through Ahmad’s case, there was a chance to plug the gaps that allow this practice to happen.

The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) also initiated an inquiry into Ahmad’s mental condition seeking a report from the Punjab Prisons IG within 72 hours.

The commission also directed the prisons’ chief to hold back the execution of the prisoner in question till pendency of the case.

The NCHR is an independent government’s body tasked to look into matters pertaining to all forms of violation of human rights.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2017

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