The Supreme Court of Pakistan has said schizophrenia does not fall within its legal definition of mental disorders. The decision means prisoner Imdad Ali who was diagnosed with the mental illness could soon face execution as early as October 26.
Pakistan has executed 425 people since lifting a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015, after Taliban gunmen massacred 150 people, including 130 children, at a boys school in Peshawar. Initially limited to those convicted of terrorism, the death sentence was expanded to all capital crimes.
Britain-based rights group Reprieve's death penalty team director Maya Foya said, "It is outrageous for Pakistan's Supreme Court to claim that schizophrenia is not a mental illness, and flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge, including Pakistan's own mental health laws."
The case of Imdad
Government doctors in 2012 diagnosed Ali, 50, with paranoid schizophrenia, after he was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of a cleric.
He was scheduled to be hanged on September 20 but was granted a last-minute reprieve from the top court due to pending hearings. When the hearings resumed, a three-judge bench ruled schizophrenia was "not a permanent mental disorder".
"It is, therefore, a recoverable disease, which, in all the cases, does not fall within the definition of 'mental disorder'," the judges said in Thursday's verdict.
The verdict relied on two dictionary definitions of the term schizophrenia, as well as a 1988 judgment by the supreme court in neighbouring India.
The American Psychological Association defines schizophrenia as: "a serious mental illness characterised by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behaviour and speech, and delusions or hallucinations, such as hearing voices.
Dr Tahir Feroze, a government psychiatrist who has treated Ali for the last eight years of his incarceration, said Ali suffers from delusions that he controls the world and he hears voices in his head that command him.
Feroze and two other doctors certified Ali's condition in 2012. But according to Ali's lawyer Sarah Belal, the government report certifying Ali's condition had never been presented in court before 2016.
Belal said Ali is unfit to be executed as he is unable to understand his crime and punishment, and that doing so would violate Pakistan's obligations under a United Nations treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
"He is completely delusional", said Ali's wife Safia Bano.
Bano has sought forgiveness for her husband from the heirs of the murder victim, a feature of Islamic law used in Pakistan that might help avert execution but they refused to meet her.