Medical board confirms death row prisoner in Lahore suffers from schizophrenia

Updated November 26, 2018

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Terming Saleem Ahmad a "high-risk patient", doctors say he requires regular medical treatment. — File
Terming Saleem Ahmad a "high-risk patient", doctors say he requires regular medical treatment. — File

A medical board constituted on the orders of a Lahore sessions court has confirmed that a 50-year-old prisoner who was previously scheduled to be executed suffers from chronic schizophrenia and requires regular medical treatment.

Saleem Ahmad, who was sentenced to death for killing his sister, was scheduled to be hanged on November 7 last year.

However, District and Sessions Judge Abid Hussain Qureshi had later suspended his black warrant on a plea filed by Barrister Sarah Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), who argued that the prisoner could not be executed as he was mentally unwell. The court had then ordered the constitution of a medical board to investigate his mental health.

Belal had said at the time that the jail authorities obtained Saleem's death warrant despite the fact that they kept him in isolation due to his erratic behaviour caused by his severe mental illness.

"After detailed history and evaluation, the Board is of the opinion that [the prisoner] is suffering from chronic schizophrenia," says a report issued by the seven-member medical board that convened at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) in Lahore. Submitted in June this year, the report was presented in the court today.

"Considering his long psychiatric illness, aggressive behaviour and hallucination, he requires regular medical treatment," the report adds, terming the death-row inmate as a "high-risk patient".

While testifying before the court, Dr Mohsin Saqib, a consultant psychiatrist at PIMH, ascertained the findings of the medical board and suggested that Saleem, who is imprisoned at the Kot Lakhpat Jail, be transferred to PIMH for treatment, a press release issued by the JPP said.

The doctor "also asserted that the [prisoner] claims to have undergone shock therapy and has a history of mental illness dating back to his time prior to his arrest.

The court will next hear the case on December 6.

Saleem was arrested in Lahore on July 30, 2001, for killing his sister, Nasreen Begum, after she allegedly refused to lend him money. According to the JPP, he has been on death row for 14 years.

The prisoner was sentenced to death in 2004, even though the investigation officer testified about being aware of his mental illness and the trial court acknowledging that he was “insane” and “did not have any orientation about time and space”.

Saleem 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 2017 and a mercy petition forwarded by the jail authorities was rejected on October 19 the same year.

JPP Spokesperson Muhammad Shoaib commented on the development by saying: “The government has always had plenty of evidence of Saleem’s debilitating mental condition. Now with the country’s most trusted psychiatric facilities confirming this diagnosis, not only is it clear that Saleem is not fit to be executed, but it is imperative that he be moved to a secure mental health facility at the earliest. He has been deprived of adequate care for too long, and was nearly executed for it. Hanging the mentally ill serves no criminal justice purpose, and it appears that our judiciary is recognising this as well.”

Earlier this year, while taking up the matter of Kaniz Fatima and Imdad Ali, both death row convicts who suffer from mental disabilities, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had questioned how the state could execute mentally unsound persons.

"Neither reason nor sensibility allow me to believe that we can execute a mentally ill or disabled person," the top judge had remarked at the time.