ISLAMABAD: Chief Jus­tice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa on Monday granted a stay on the execution, scheduled for Tuesday (today), of a prisoner after getting confirmation from a government-appointed medical board that the man was mentally ill.

“The Supreme Court has granted the stay after a new panel of psychiatrists who evaluated Ghulam Abbas declared that he is suffering from mental illness. I am so humbled and encouraged that good things can happen. The man will not be hanged,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza said while talking to Dawn.

On Sunday, Dr Mirza had written a letter to President Arif Alvi, requesting the latter to halt the execution of the mentally ill patient. Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari had also contacted the presidency and after which a medical board was constituted to examine the 36-year-old prisoner.

Moreover, the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights law firm, had not only filed a constitutional petition but also requested President Alvi to halt the execution.

Ghulam Abbas was sentenced to death on May 31, 2006 by a district and sessions court for stabbing a neighbour. He has spent more than 13 years on death row.

Dr Mirza said a medical board of Benazir Bhutto Hospital Rawalpindi consisting of Dr Asad Tameezud Din, Dr Mehmood Ali Khan and Dr Azeem Khan had examined the prisoner on Monday morning and confirmed that he was suffering from mental illness. “Then the matter was taken up with the Supreme Court and the CJP stayed the execution,” he said.

The order was issued on the petition filed by the JPP in the Supreme Court after the Punjab home department withdrew its permission to allow an independent psychiatrist and two government doctors to visit Adiala jail and evaluate Ghulam Abbas.

According to the doctors, the prisoner shows “strong evidence of epilepsy with reported episodes of fits within the jail”. They said: “He has evidence of psychotic illness with hallucinations and behaviour disturbances and also suffers from a depressive illness and has been on treatment in the jail since April 24, 2019.”

Moreover, the doctors said, there was an impression of mental retardation and the prisoner also suffered from ptosis of the right eye.

The JPP said in statement that it was relieved to learn that the CJP had granted the stay on the execution of Ghulam Abbas.

It said that earlier this year another mentally ill prisoner, Khizar Hayat, had passed away at a hospital after spending 16 years on death row. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was prescribed strong antipsychotic medication and had spent the last six years of his life alone in the cell of his jail hospital, effectively living in a solitary confinement.

Four execution warrants were issued for Khizar Hayat and it was the timely intervention of the Supreme Court that suspended the black warrant. However, he had not lived very long and eventually died at the hospital on March 21 this year, the JPP said.

Interpretation of life imprisonment law

On Monday, Chief Justice Khosa observed that the current interpretation of the life imprisonment law was flawed and expressed his intention to re-examine it at an “appropriate time”. During the hearing of a review petition against a murder case, he said the span of life imprisonment was limited to 25 years when it was meant to last a lifetime.

“We will interpret the law correctly at an appropriate time. Once it happens, convicts will ask for a death sentence instead of life imprisonment. Once it happens, we’ll see who commits murder,” the CJP said.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019