In a landmark decision, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled this week that mentally ill prisoners could not be held accountable for their crimes.
The decision was hailed by rights activists, who said it laid the groundwork for broader prison reform in the country.
On Wednesday, the court overturned the death sentences of Kanizan Bibi, 46, and Imdad Ali, 55, who had spent several years on death row after being convicted of murder. Bibi and Ali were diagnosed with schizophrenia after their reassurances.
The verdict reads: “If a convicted prisoner, due to mental illness, is unable to understand the reason and the reason behind his sentence, then carrying out the death penalty will not complete the abolition of justice. “
Human rights lawyer Osama Malik told the Guardian that the Supreme Court had “not given relief to every prisoner in the death penalty for mental health problems in the Cart Blanche”, but that a medical board would now determine. Which prisoner “suffers from such mental health problems” that his execution would be contrary to the principle of punishment.
The court also directed that prosecutors and trial judges be trained on how to assess mental health issues during trial.
Bibi was convicted when she was 16 years old that she killed the rich landlord’s wife and five children. In 2000, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Ali was charged in 2001 with the murder of a religious scholar. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2008.
Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide Explained That Bibi was wrongly convicted. He was tortured in police custody for several days before being sentenced to death in 1991.
Bibi and Ali will now be transferred to a government-run mental health facility.
Sarah Bilal, executive director of the Justice Project Pakistan, told the Guardian: “With this decision, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has laid the groundwork for far-reaching prison reform. It wants to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities, but also how it obliges the federation and the provinces to uphold the standards of due process and justice.
Since 2014, 518 people have been executed in Pakistan, and 4,225 people are on death row.
Pakistan abolished the death penalty from 2008 to 2014 under pressure from international rights groups and campaigners. But in 2014, following a deadly Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, strict laws were introduced and the moratorium was lifted.
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