SC orders medical examination of two prisoners on death row

Updated 22 Sep 2020

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A  five-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up a review petition moved by the Punjab government as well as by Imdad Ali, Ms Kanizan Fatima Bibi and Safia Bano. — AFP/File
A five-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up a review petition moved by the Punjab government as well as by Imdad Ali, Ms Kanizan Fatima Bibi and Safia Bano. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court constituted a five-man medical board on Monday to conduct a fresh medical examination of two mentally ill prisoners on death row and directed two amici curiae (friends of the court) to submit an expert opinion explaining mental illness in the light of national and international jurisprudence.

The convicts who will be examined afresh are Ghulam Abbas and Kanizan Fatima Bibi — two mentally ill death row prisoners.

Presided over by Justice Manzoor Ahmed, a five-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up a review petition moved by the Punjab government as well as by Imdad Ali, Ms Kanizan Fatima Bibi and Safia Bano.

Prof Dr Rizwan Taj, the head of Psychiatry at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, will head the board. Other members will be Prof Altaf Qadir Khan, head of Psychiatry at Sheikh Zayed Medical College, Lahore; Prof Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Professor of Psychiatry at King Edward Medical University, Lahore; Prof Dr Saima Dawood Khan, Professor of Psychology, at Punjab University, Lahore; and Prof Dr Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan, a professor at Peshawar University.

The medical board will submit its report in three weeks while the hearing will resume on Oct 19.

Bench also seeks opinion on interpretation of laws dealing with soundness of mind of an accused

In addition to the medical board, the Supreme Court also asked retired Brig Mowadat Hussain Rana and Advocate Haider Rasul Mirza to assist the court and offer their expert opinion in the context of Section 84 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 464 and 465 of the Criminal Procedure Code at the next hearing.

Dr Rana, a psychiatrist, was asked to assist the court on the different types of mental disorders and the accuracy of detecting mental illness after the trial.

Advocate Haider Rasul Mirza will give an opinion on interpretation of laws dealing with soundness of mind of an accused or convict.

The petitioners have sought review of a judgement given by the Supreme Court on Oct 19, 2015. The judgement said the trial court and the high court had rightly convicted and sentenced the appellants and that the apex court did not find any reason or mitigating circumstances to reduce the sentence.

In its review petition, the Punjab government had pleaded that the apex court had ignored the mental condition of the convicts at the time of passing the judgement. The two were lunatic and suffering from schizophrenia, the Punjab government contended.

The review petition further argued that the apex court’s verdict was the result of “misreading and non-reading” of the evidence available. It had ignored an international treaty that says the death penalty should not be given to a person suffering from any form of mental disorder.

Kanizan Bibi had approached the Supreme Court with a plea that she was suffering from schizophrenia.

She was charged with killing two sons of her lover, Khan Mohammad — a father of five — in July 1989 in Kamalia. On the incitement of Kanizan Bibi, Khan Mohammad killed his wife and three daughters.

Earlier, the court had held it had to decide whether the execution of an inmate will remain relevant if the convict had contracted the illness two years before his execution date.

In November 2017, a bench headed by then chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali had ordered the constitution of a three-member medical board of renowned psychiatrists to thoroughly examine Imdad Ali and submit its findings after complete medical assessment of the patient.

Earlier, the same court on Oct 31, 2017, had stayed the execution of Imdad Ali — an over 50-year-old prisoner on death row, by suspending the second black warrant issued for his execution on July 26, 2016.

The president had already rejected his mercy petition on Nov 17, 2015.

Safia Bano had moved a petition in the Supreme Court against rejection by the Lahore High Court’s Multan bench of her review plea against the death sentence awarded by a trial court in 2016.

In its order, the Supreme Court had ruled that mental ailments like schizophrenia do not made irrelevant the sentence of death because such psychiatric disorders were not permanent disease.

“Schizophrenia is not a permanent mental disorder, rather imbalance, increasing or decreasing depending upon the level of stress,” the Supreme Court had held.

In its review petition, the Punjab government pleaded that the court judgement had placed limited the definition of “schizophrenia”, contrary to the universally accepted medical definition in terms of “mental disorder”, as envisaged by the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001.

The provincial government contended that Sharia prohibits execution of a mentally challenged prisoner.

This view has been endorsed by Islamic jurist Allama Ibne Abideen in his work, Radd-al-Mukhtarala al-Dur al Mukhtar.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Justice Project Pakistan, Ali Haider Habib, said on Monday that the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture prevent it from executing mentally ill prisoners.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2020