“NEITHER reason nor sensibility allows me to believe that we can execute a mentally ill or disabled person,” stated the now former chief justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, when reviewing the death penalty handed out to Kaniz Fatima and Imdad Ali, death-row prisoners who suffer severe mental disorders. Despite having the death penalty hanging over his head halted four times — a situation that is highly stressful for convicts and their families — it seems that neither reason nor sensibility, not even compassion, were in evidence in the case of Khizar Hayat. He had been placed on death row for killing a police officer back in 2003. Recently, a two-member bench had referred Hayat’s case to a larger bench of the Supreme Court which was reviewing the cases of Imdad Ali and Kaniz Fatima. After spending 16 years of his life in jail — the last six in solitary confinement, with his mental health getting worse in the confines of his cell — Hayat passed away on March 21, 2019. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2008, the former policeman spent his last days in critical condition at Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. For several days, he had been so ill that he could not even take medicine or food and had to be force-fed. Despite requests by doctors to place him in a mental institution (in accordance with the Pakistan Prison Rules), all such requests were rejected by the Punjab authorities.
Khizar Hayat never saw justice in his lifetime, but there are still over 8,000 prisoners languishing on death row in Pakistan. Many remain undiagnosed. Most of Pakistan’s overcrowded prisons lack a separate psychiatric ward and do not have professionals visiting regularly. So far, only Sindh has passed legislation that combines psychiatric health with the criminal justice system. And while they wait for their next hearing, Imdad Ali and Kaniz Fatima have yet to be examined by the special medical board appointed by the court four months ago.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019