Stop executing the mentally ill

Within the Pakistani jails there are two death row prisoners who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.


By Salman Ali

Pakistan has signed many international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits execution of mentally ill prisoners. Islamic jurisprudence also disallows death penalty for the mentally ill. But a Pakistani woman who has been on death row since 1989 has been sent to gallows. Fifty-four-year-old Kaniza may in time claim the dubious distinction of being the first woman to be executed in the history of Pakistan.

Just to highlight for my readers that within the Pakistani jails there are two death row prisoners who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. One is Ali Imdad and second is mentally ill KanizaBibi. But recently in October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered a fresh medical examination of two mentally ill prisoners, currently on the death row. Moreover, the court ordered the medical board consisting of civil and military doctors to conduct a fresh medical test of both the prisoners and submit report in two months. The board will also inform the court about history and extent of the mental illness and the prospects of treatment.

Kaniza has been languishing in jail from past 29 years. She was sentenced to death for murder under Section 302/34 of the Pakistan Penal Code PPC. A resident of Toba Tek Singh, Kaniza was handed the death penalty for seven murders that she carried out with her accomplice and lover Khan Muhammad in 1989. Khan Muhammad was hanged in 2003, but so far, Kaniza has escaped execution because she is mentally unwell. Her appeals were earlier dismissed by the Supreme Court. She was shifted from Multan Women’s Jail to KotLakhpat Jail for execution but jail authorities, found her mental condition unstable and admitted her to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health in Lahore for the treatment but again on the orders of Supreme Court she has been admitted to PIMH and directed its consultant to ensure good medical treatment.

Kaniza is accused of killing five minor siblings and their mother, who were found slaughtered at their house in Kukranwala village on July 28, 1989. Khan Muhammad at that time registered an FIR against an unidentified accused for killing his eight-month pregnant wife Mariam Bibi and children Shaukat Ali, 4, Razia,6, Liaqat Ali, 7, HanifanBibi, 9, and Aslam Ali, 13. It later turned out that it was Muhammad himself who had committed the murders. After his arrest, Muhammad confessed to the multiple killings in connivance with Kanizan. The police also arrested Kanizan and charged them both of individually killing three people with an axe and a knife.

President of Pakistan at the time, Pervez Musharraf, rejected Kaniza’s plea for mercy. From 1989 till 2018, Kaniza is still behind the bars and looking for presidential pardon. Meanwhile, Kaniza is mute, at times unable to feed or clothe herself and rarely recognises or responds to family members.

Interestingly, Punjab Institute of Mental Health PIMH also wrote a detailed report on Kaniza’s case and submitted to superintendent of KotLakhpat Jail that she is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

While talking to Sarmad Ali, a legal expert said, within Pakistani jails there are almost 47 women prisoners on death row. They are charged under different sections of law. But till now not a single woman has been executed till now. Women are sentenced in Pakistan but not executed. Moreover, most of these prisoners are accused of murdering family members or husbands. They have been unable to hire lawyers to plead their cases because of extreme poverty so in results they are hanged under the government’s National Action Plan, which was formulated in the aftermath of the brutal Army Public School massacre in Peshawar on December 16 last year.

He further said, “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. On humanitarian grounds he had also submitted the mercy petition of KanizaBibi to the President ArifAlvi”.

But as per my discussions with few legal practitioners, they said there has been executions but they are not being highlighted. If we go through the Pakistan Chronicle dictionary they have shed light on some the cases. Moreover, women facing the death penalty are often abandoned by their families and, having no wealth of their own in many cases, find themselves without resources and support required to ensure that they receive a fair trial.

Unlike AasiaBibi, these women have no legal assistance, with no one pleading their cases. These women would have won their cases had someone been representing them. I want to request the chief justice and president of Pakistan to look into this matter and pardon her. She has been in jail for years and even facing serious mental disease.  So take this case on priority and pardon her.

Salman Ali is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He has done his Maters and MPhil in Communication Studies.