"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mentally ill man to be hanged in Pakistan’s first post-Ramadan executions

The Pakistani authorities have handed a death warrant to a mentally ill man, in what will be one of the first executions in the country since hangings were paused for Ramadan.

A so-called 'Black Warrant' handed down this morning confirms a new date of next Tuesday (28th) for the hanging of Khizar Hayat, a former police officer sentenced to death for murder in 2003. Khizar has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been held in the prison’s hospital since 2012 because of his worsening psychiatric state. In June this year, the Lahore High Court stayed an initial plan to execute Khizar after seeing jail records documenting his severe mental illness, including comments from doctors that “he is suffering from active symptoms of severe psychosis”.

After meeting with Khizar just hours before his planned hanging in June, his mother reported that he had no idea that he was about to be executed, believing instead that he would soon be taken home. Despite this, jail authorities have insisted that he can be executed, claiming that he has “somewhat orientation in time place and person”. Under Pakistani and international law, mentally ill people cannot be executed.

Pakistani authorities have hanged some 180 people since resuming executions in December 2014, but refrained from carrying out further killings and handing down death warrants during Ramadan. If Khizar's execution goes ahead, it would be one of the first hangings in Pakistan since the end of the Muslim holy month.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at international human rights organization Reprieve, said: “Khizar Hayat is suffering from such severe mental illness that he has had to be confined to a hospital cell, away from other prisoners, for the last three years. Acutely psychotic, with a limited grasp on reality, Khizar has no idea what's happening to him - or why the Pakistani authorities are so keen to see him hanged. To execute Khizar would be an act of gross inhumanity, as well as a serious violation of Pakistani and international law, which prohibits the execution of the mentally ill. The government must stay the execution without delay.”

Source: Reprieve, July 23, 2015

Executing the mentally ill

Since Pakistan abandoned its moratorium on the death penalty in December, the state has embarked upon a relentless spree to execute hordes of prisoners who have been languishing for decades in death row cells all across the country. According to civil society groups, there are currently over 8,500 people on death row in Pakistan. It is no secret that the criminal justice system is flawed on every level. In order to secure convictions, the police relies upon torturing the most vulnerable to extract confessions and damning testimonials. The trial that follows is a script of a lack of diligence by trial courts, procedural oversight, records that suddenly go missing and incompetent legal representation. Whilst the wealthy and influential escape through the loopholes, the poor, mentally ill, powerless and members of religious minorities are rushed to the gallows - celebrated numbers in the horrific body count of executions that the state celebrates as an indicator of its success in eradicating terrorism. As the state reaches a milestone of over 176 executions this month, it is important to acquaint ourselves with the stories of those who are awaiting their deaths after Eid.

Kanizan Bibi, a woman diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, has spent the last 26 years in prison. In 1989 she was framed as an accomplice in the murder of a woman and her 5 minor children. Her family maintains that the real culprits managed to procure their release by bribing the police into framing Kanizan Bibi and her co-accused for murdering the family of the latter as a result of an extra-marital affair. Kanizan Bibi was subjected to such brutal torture under police custody that she ended up incapacitated in the hospital after just 4 days of interrogation. The police procured a forced confession from Kanizan which, despite her repeated recanting, was used as a basis of her conviction and later in the awarding of her death sentence. Kanizan Bibi's mental health has deteriorated rapidly throughout the course of her imprisonment. At present she maintains no control over her mental faculties, recognises no one and has been mute for over 8 years. In 2008 Kanizan Bibi was transferred from Kot Lakhpat Jail to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) for treatment on account of her dire psycho-social health. During her stay at PIMH, two medical boards have declared her as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and as a result, mentally unfit to face execution. However, despite her mental condition, President Mamnoon Hussain has rejected her mercy petition. Kanizan's only relative, her elderly father, died in an accident as he was on his way to visit her at PIMH from their home town of Toba Tek Singh. As a result, she spends her days in solitude and isolation as the Home Department deliberates upon when to schedule her execution date.

Yet another prisoner facing the death penalty post-Eid is Khizr Hayat, a former police officer, who was diagnosed by jail authorities as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in 2008. Throughout his time in prison he has experienced severe hallucinations and fits that have made him a target for violent attacks from his fellow inmates on several occasions. Instead of transferring Khizr to an independent medical facility, as requested repeatedly by his mother, prison authorities keep him under solitary confinement in the prison's hospital room, letting him out only when he gets visitors. According to Khizr's lawyers, he has no idea why or how long he has been in prison, that he is on death row, and thinks that the medication he is taking are anti-malaria pills.

On April 28, Munir Hussain became the 100th person to be executed by the state after the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty. According to his family, Munir was a long-term sufferer of mental illness and had no recollection of his life before arrest or of any of his family members at the time of his hanging.

The mentally ill comprise a big chunk of Pakistan's prison population, particularly those on death row. Many people enter the prison population with predispositions of mental illness. Such illness is exacerbated over the course of their incarceration as a result of a lack of access to health care, police misconduct, torture and harassment from other prisoners. Mentally ill prisoners are stuffed in Pakistan death row cells alongside other inmates. These death row cells, measuring 8ft x 12ft and designed to house not more than 2 prisoners at a time, currently hold on average 6 or more prisoners for over 23 hours a day. Whilst the Medical Health Ordinance was enacted in 2001 to provide protection and treatment to mentally ill prisoners the law receives little or no implementation nation-wide.

Executions of the mentally ill violate the right to human dignity under the Constitution and is an affront to Pakistan's obligations under international law. Additionally, Section 84 of the Pakistan Penal Code does not allow the state to punish any person suffering from a "disorder of his mental capabilities". There is no evidentiary basis or rational link between eradicating the root causes of terrorism and the government's conveyer belt of en masse executions carried out regardless of the mental stability of the prisoners. Daily executions, particularly of the mentally insane, serves as no deterrent to crime and order. It is only a campaign of cruelty and vengeance against the most vulnerable already persecuted by a biased criminal justice system. The current PML-N government needs to reinstate the moratorium against the death penalty immediately in order to stop its repeated violations of the fundamental rights of its vulnerable citizens.

Source: The Nation, July 23, 2015

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