Inhumane to hang a mentally ill prisoner

By the Dawn Editorial Desk, Dawn/ANN

KARACHI — Hanging a prisoner, and that too one diagnosed as mentally ill, is inhumane and does not serve the objectives of criminal justice. Warrants being repeatedly issued for mentally ill prisoners expose serious anomalies in the justice system. Served with his third term after 14 years on death row for killing a policeman, Khizer Hayat is scheduled to be hanged on Jan. 17.

Disturbingly, despite his counsel filing an application in the Lahore High Court to stay the execution, the prison authorities approached the sessions court for the warrant. Because Hayat’s case is under review at the National Commission for Human Rights, issuing a black warrant demonstrates negligence and perverts the course of justice. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2008, his medical reports were never presented as evidence to the Supreme Court by jail authorities in 2009. Again, when he was examined by a court-appointed medical board in May 2016, it was concluded he suffered from delusions and psychosis.

This lack of coordination between jail authorities, lawyers and the judicial system demonstrated on several occasions is unpardonable. Given the irrevocable nature of the death penalty — a punishment this newspaper does not endorse — there is a critical need for the judiciary to comprehend the nature of mental illness. In Imdad Ali’s case, the Supreme Court’s controversial verdict ruled schizophrenia is a “recoverable” disease in contrast to universal medical evidence stating it is incurable. That said, why have the jail authorities failed to approach the home department to hospitalize Hayat for treatment? Because the system is rigged against the poorer mentally ill prisoners, the latter’s cases hinge on inept state prosecutors and jail authorities. Given that the Ghulam brothers were wrongfully hanged — executed before their appeals were decided — the state must review capital punishment keeping in mind that there is no place for it in a society that upholds human rights as a supreme value.