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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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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.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Pakistan: Pardon Imdad Ali

The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of Imdad Ali, a schizophrenic man convicted in 2002 of murdering a cleric. The hanging was postponed on the basis of Ali's mental illness. The court issued notices to the Advocate General Punjab, the Prosecutor General Punjab and the Attorney General, seeking their comments on the issue. The notices were issued in connection with a review petition submitted by Imdad Ali's wife. The apex court had already rejected a plea as his lawyers said Ali is unfit to be executed since he is unable to understand his crime and punishment. A 3-member bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali heard the case. Counsel for Ali's wife informed the court that the death warrant for Ali had been issued. However, he has not yet been executed. The hearing of the case will resume in the second week of November.

While dismissing her appeal against the August 23 order of the Lahore High Court's Multan Bench, which upheld the sentence awarded by the trial court, the Supreme Court had ruled that a mental sickness like schizophrenia does not work as revocation of the death penalty because such a psychiatric disorder is not a permanent disease. Government doctors in 2012 certified Imdad Ali, 50, as being a paranoid schizophrenic, after he was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of a cleric. The decision was covered by the media outlets worldwide, and was widely condemned by different human rights organisations and NGOs. Different online petitions were initiated by organisations such as the Amnesty International and the Justice Project Pakistan to stop the execution of Ali.

Firstly, a lot of discrepancies have been highlighted by the human rights organisations in the Supreme Court's ruling that termed schizophrenia as not a permanent mental disorder, and rather "an imbalance, increasing or decreasing depending upon the level of stress." The claim was widely debunked by specialists from around the world, terming the decision as a dangerous precedent for Pakistan's justice system.

In her review petition, Safia Bano, had pleaded that the Supreme Court reconsider its Sept 27 judgement, especially when it was evident from medical jurisprudence that paranoid schizophrenia was classified as a chronic and permanent mental disorder, affecting cognitive functions. The medical records, the petition said, reflected that Ali had consistently displayed symptoms of schizophrenia, was not showing signs of improvement and had active psychotic symptoms.

Most of the experts have termed Supreme Court's decision to review the ruling as a response to the mounting pressure from international rights organisations. According to the Amnesty International, more than 140 countries around the world has abolished the death penalty in law or practice, and in most of the countries where it exists, due process is followed strictly, and punishments are accorded according to the mental health of the culprits. The moratorium on the capital punishments was lifted following the tragedy of the Army Public School in December 2014, under the impression that it was only to be used to execute hardcore terrorists. But the majority of the executions conducted since then have been those people who were not involved in terrorism.

With such rulings, amid a dilapidated condition of legal processes, Pakistan might face strict moral sanctions from the international community. The practice of capital punishment should be abolished for all circumstances. Instead of executing the mentally ill persons, the state should improve the condition of prisons by providing mental health facilities so that prisoners could be rehabilitated for their reintegration into the society following their jail terms. Similarly, life term should be used as the harshest punishment. Capital punishment, wherever it has been practised around the world, has not helped much in decreasing the crime rate, and its merit as a deterrent is highly debatable. Pakistan should follow suit and abolish capital punishment, and should focus on alternative ways to dispense suitable punishments.

Source: The Daily Times, Editorial, November 2, 2016

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