The Supreme Court of Pakistan — acting on a suo motu notice — on Friday reconsidered the death sentences handed to Kaniz Fatima and Imdad Ali, both death row convicts who suffer from mental disabilities.
A two-member bench comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and the chief justice took up the matter, with the latter asking how the state can execute mentally ill persons.
"Neither reason nor sensibility allow me to believe that we can execute a mentally ill or disabled person," Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar stated during proceedings, recalling that international legal systems have unequivocally forbidden the execution of mentally ill persons.
The court subsequently formed a five-member bench to examine the matter and rule on it.
It is worth recalling that the Supreme Court had cleared the way for Imdad Ali's execution in October 2016 after ruling that schizophrenia — which Ali suffers from — was a "curable disease".
However, the warrant for his execution was never issued because of severe criticism over the ruling, a new petition from Ali's lawyers and a request for review from the Punjab government.
The bench on Saturday said that if a medical board certifies that Ali suffers from schizophrenia, "we cannot allow a mentally disabled person to be executed."
Meanwhile, it also ordered that Fatima be provided the best treatment possible at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) and a medical board be formed to assess her mental condition.
Delivering a warning to Dr Tahir Munir — a representative of PIMH — against acting contrary to the court's orders, the chief justice recalled that when he last visited the hospital, he had witnessed poor conditions.
"PIMH seems to be less hospital and more jail. I have heard that patients are forced to relieve themselves on their beds," he said, admonishing the hospital's representative.
He said he had also heard reports that mentally unstable children were abused at the hospital, while male hospital attendants were made to look after female patients as well.
He warned the hospital administration to be prepared for his visit to the institution at any given time.
Kaniz Fatima has reportedly not spoken for the last 12 years, and is unable to eat, drink or take care of herself without assistance.
Her case was highlighted recently when a plea for clemency penned by her father was translated and published by Dawn.com.
The letter — which had sought President Mamnoon Hussain's mercy in 2016 — had described in detail how Kaniz Fatima was tortured by police to the point of insanity when she was only 16 for a false 'confession' in a murder case.
Kaniz Fatima has so far spent 29 years behind bars.
Her father passed away two years ago.
Imdad Ali, on the other hand, has been declared to be suffering from schizophrenia by multiple doctors. A medical board had in 2013 declared him "clinically insane". In September and October 2016, a review of his mental condition had stated that he was suffering from symptoms of psychosis and was resisting treatment.
His mental condition has steadily worsened over his years in incarceration.