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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
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Pakistan issues 7-day stay of execution for mentally ill prisoner

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has issued a week-long stay of execution for a severely mentally ill prisoner who was due to be hanged in the early hours tomorrow (Tuesday).

Calls had been growing to halt the hanging of Imdad Ali, a severely mentally ill man, amid concerns that his execution would be illegal under domestic and international law.

Earlier today, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the hanging to be postponed, and a new hearing scheduled for next Tuesday (27th). Mr Ali could still be executed as early as next week.

Mr Ali’s lawyers have sent a mercy petition to Pakistan’s President with testimony from medical experts, including the doctor who examined him in prison and diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia.

The doctor’s report describes Mr Ali as “an insane person.” Prison medical records show that Mr Ali has been prescribed strong anti-psychotic medication, another sign that the authorities recognise he is mentally ill.

The mercy petition provides an array of medical evidence for the President to consider, such as a statement from psychiatric consultant Dr Feroze Khan, who examined Mr Ali’s mental health and recommended that he be transferred to a mental health facility for active psychiatric treatment.

A statement issued by 14 of Pakistan’s leading psychiatrists also warns that executing Mr Ali would run contrary to Pakistani law. The experts, including Malik Hussain Mubbasshar, Professor Emeritus at Lahore’s University of Health Sciences, said that: “[The] Law does not allow such execution of prisoners suffering from this nature of mental disorder in which the prisoner is having a psychotic illness and is unable to know why is he being executed and what will be the consequence of this punishment.”

Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission have both expressed concerns about Mr Ali's upcoming execution, while this weekend some 9,000 people signed an online petition calling for him to be saved.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“It’s extremely welcome that the Supreme Court has saved Imdad Ali from execution just hours before his scheduled hanging. There is overwhelming medical evidence that Imdad is mentally ill and should not be executed. President Hussain must now urgently consider the evidence and grant mercy to Imdad – or else risk a miscarriage of justice that can never be reversed”.

More information about Imdad Ali is available at the Reprieve website, here.

Source: Reprieve, September 19, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications@reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine.oshea@reprieve.org

Imdad Ali's death penalty: a travesty of justice?


The execution of Imdad Ali, which is scheduled for Tuesday, would be a great travesty of justice. Imdad Ali is a 50-year-old death row inmate who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, but his defence for insanity has, unfortunately, been rejected due to a technicality in judicial precedent, according to which if the accused flees the scene of the crime he is not considered mentally unfit. 

This judicial precedent is woefully inadequate to define mental illness, to say the least, and the rejection for Ali's plea on that basis against the face of numerous medical examinations declaring him to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia casts serious doubts over the ability of precedent to evolve in Pakistan's judicial system.

The fact that even jail authorities are sympathetic to Ali's case, and an examination carried out by the head of psychiatry of the Nishtar Hospital on the request of the superintendent of district Vehari jail formally diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia must be enough to merit a revision of Ali's death sentence. Moreover, there are testimonies of not just family members but also neighbours regarding Ali's behaviour that is characteristic of paranoid schizophrenia. 

Unfortunately, Imdad Ali's case is symptomatic of the faulty criminal justice system of Pakistan for which even the otherwise most ardent supporters of death penalty would not, in good conscience, be able to support the death penalty. And even amidst a narrative in which the death penalty has been deemed an imperative to eliminate militancy in the country, the execution of a mentally unstable person finds not even an iota of justification.

Ranging from incompetent public defence counsel to forced confessions, the problems plaguing the criminal justice system of Pakistan are glaringly apparent. And as those with access to resources are able to evade punishment, it is often the poor who are left to face the gallows. While there is good reason to doubt the veracity of most convictions, but even if there is the slightest chance that an innocent individual would lose his life then the ostensible grounds for the death penalty are lost, and carrying it out turns into the gravest of injustice and one that is wholly irreversible. 

In any case, advocating death penalty during present times is an anachronism, and there are plenty of studies that have shown that it does not act as an effective deterrent. The philosophical underpinnings of state sanctioned punishment are based on the need for preserving the social order and discouraging people from breaking laws that are there for the common good. While in ancient times the state apparatus was not well-developed and, consequently, the chance of catching a criminal were low, punishments were made severe and carried out in public to increase the cost of committing a crime. Now with the modern police system and advanced powers of surveillance, the functional need for the death penalty is no longer there.

Furthermore, a much more effective purpose of the criminal justice system is not the dispensation of punishment but the task of reformation. This takes into account the different circumstances that force an individual into becoming a criminal, and hence the responsibility of society is not to punish that person but to fix him and turn him into a functioning member of society. It is true that Pakistan is far from this ideal, but perhaps a starting point could be to not execute a mentally unfit person. Pardon Imdad Ali.

Source: Daily Times, September 19, 2016

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