ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court has ruled that schizophrenia being a recoverable disease cannot be termed a permanent mental disorder, in a landmark judgment that paved way for execution of a murder convict.
The decision outraged local and international human rights activists and organisations that have been running a special campaign for Imdad Ali, who murdered of a cleric in 2002 and could now be hanged as early as next week.
The court had rejected a plea for the convict last month but issued a detailed judgment on Thursday which relied on two dictionary definitions of the term 'schizophrenia', as well as a 1988 judgment by India’s Supreme Court.
“Schizophrenia is not a permanent mental disorder; rather, it is an imbalance which can increase or decrease depending on the level of stress,” said 11-page judgment authored by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali.
It said that in recent years, the prognosis has been improved with drugs, by vigorous psychological and social managements, and rehabilitation. It is, therefore, a recoverable disease, which in all the cases, does not fall with the definition of ‘mental disorder’ as defined in the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001.
Hailing from Burewala, Imdad Ali was awarded death sentence in 2002 and diagnosed with schizophrenia while in prison in 2012. His sentence was upheld by all superior courts. The president has also rejected his mercy petition.
When black warrants were issued for Imdad’s execution on July 26 this year, his wife filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court, Multan bench, to delay his hanging till the recovery of his mental illness. The high court rejected her plea on August 23.
Safia Bano, wife of the convict, then approached the apex court. A three-judge bench on September 27 passed the short order, in which it upheld the LHC verdict.
Lawyers and rights groups say the convicted paranoid schizophrenic cannot be executed as he cannot understand his crime and punishment.
Dr Tahir Feroze, a government psychiatrist who has treated the convict for the last eight years of his incarceration, says he and two other doctors certified Imdad’s condition in 2012.
According to Feroze and Safia Bano, Ali suffers from delusions that he controls the world and he hears voices in his head that command him. "He is completely delusional," Bano told Reuters.
Imdad Ali's lawyer, Sarah Belal, claims the government report certifying Ali’s condition had never been presented in court before 2016.
In its judgment, the court dismissed the medical records and an affidavit from Feroze. The apex court said that subordinate courts discarded the convict’s plea of mental illness and he cannot be deemed as “lunatic”. The medical records brought before the courts show that he is a psychiatric patient suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia”, the court noted.
The chief justice cited the judgment of the Indian Supreme Court in Bhishan Gupta vs the Union of India of 1977. In that case, the mother of the convict had filed a petition before the High Court of Delhi, praying that her son’s execution be withheld on the ground that he had become a person of unsound mind and suffering from schizophrenia. The court dismissed the plea. The same plea was dismissed by the Indian Supreme Court, arguing the convict did not suffer from legal insanity — either during his trial or at the time of the commission of the offence.
“Interestingly, as the statements on and (the) origins of the Common Law rules on the subject in England, against the execution of an insane person, maybe, we, in this country, are governed entirely by our statute law on such a matter.
“The courts have no power to prohibit the carrying out of a sentence of death legally passed upon on an accused person on the ground either that there is some rule in the Common Law of England against the execution of an insane person sentenced to death or some theological, religious, or moral objection to it.
“Our statute law on the subject is based entirely on secular considerations which place the protection and welfare of society in the forefront,” the SC quoted the Indian Supreme Court as writing in its 1977 judgment.
The ourt said that schizophrenia is psychiatric disorder in which a person becomes unable to link thought, emotion and behaviour, leading to the withdrawal from reality and personal relationships.
The court held that psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia do not subjugate the death sentence. “In our opinion, rules relating to mental sickness are not subjugative to delay the execution of death sentence which has been awarded to the convict,” noted the judgment.
As a last resort, wife of the convict said she would seek forgiveness for her husband from the heirs of the murder victim, but said “they have so far refused to meet us”.
Rights groups slammed the ruling, with Amnesty International calling it "a deeply worrying development". "It is utterly reprehensible if this Supreme Court judgment leads to the execution of Imdad Ali, who has been clearly diagnosed as mentally ill," it said in a statement.
Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, called the ruling "outrageous" and said it flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge - including in Pakistan. "It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition," Foa said, demanding Pakistan's president intervene.