“[W]hen a mad man is executed, [it would] be a miserable spectacle, both against law, and of extreme humanity and cruelty, and can be of no example to others.”
–Sir Edward Coke[i]
Pre-Emption: Courts have recognized the execution of a person with a mental illness causing the person unable to determine right from wrong and not understand the repercussions of their actions is an unfair punishment since the early 1600s.[ii]
Imdad Ali, convicted in a 2001 murder case in Pakistan for killing a religious teacher, was slated to be punished via death penalty on September 20, 2016.[iii] Nearly a decade and a half following the conviction, 50 year-old Ali, diagnosed by Pakistani prison officials with paranoid schizophrenia in 2012, faced execution despite the agreement Pakistan made to protect those with disabilities.[iv] Pakistan has now been in direct violation with their previous UN agreement.
About two decades ago, Ali’s family and friends watched as his mental processing began to deteriorate.[v] Ali became withdrawn, often found talking to himself, or to inanimate objects.[vi] His wife, Safia Bano, tried desperately to have mental health professionals or hospitals treat Ali, but the price for mental health made access to care nearly impossible.[vii] Before long, Ali’s illness took the wheel and he fatally shot a man. Seeing the desperation and struggle of Ali and his family, many of his neighbors at the time of the shooting have offered to testify that Ali was a victim of his crippling schizophrenia.[viii]
Justice Project Pakistan Executive Director, Sarah Belal, fights for Imdad Ali’s justice, “Executing Imdad will exemplify Pakistan’s failure to abide by its international legal commitments [under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] that forbid the death penalty for persons suffering from mental disabilities. Knowing what [Pakistan does] about his condition would make his hanging a most serious crime.”[ix] In 2011, ten years after Ali’s conviction, Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[x] Upon ratification, they agreed to uphold the rights of individuals with disabilities.[xi]
On the day of his scheduled execution, the Pakistani court granted a one-week reprieve to investigate the case and potentially change their mind.[xii] The week following, on September 27, the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed any further halts on the execution.[xiii] Now, Ali is slated to be executed as early as October 4, 2016.[xiv]
Judges claimed, due to the vast numbers of prisoners diagnosed with mental illness, it is unreasonable to remove Ali’s sentence because this would set a precedent of letting anyone with a mental health disorder be free of their sentences.[xv]
So, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, knowing full well that both Pakistani law and International law, has ruled that because there are so many prisoners with mental health afflictions that it would lead to the release of all prisoners with mental illnesses on death row. The court made a slippery slope argument to justify their law-breaking sentencing.
Ali’s illness is what caused the homicide, not Ali. Yes, a man was murdered. He will live only as a memory and that is devastating. However, the court’s argument is only exacerbating the underlying stigmatism and prejudice against those suffering from mental health problems.
The theory behind criminal punishment is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes by having them reflect on their wrongs and reshape them into productive members of society. In Ali’s case, like many others suffering from hallucinations and delusions, he cannot physically reflect on what he has done because he did not have the capacity to decipher right from wrong. Physically speaking, Ali committed a heinous crime, but a person is not themselves when suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
The Court’s ruling is unlawful and unjust. Aside from complete disregard of the Pakistani, he judges are stripping an entire minority population in Pakistan from their human rights. Ali should be provided mental health care not put to death, as should his fellow prisoners on death row suffering from mental illness. These prisoners are already prisoners of their own minds.
“Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?”
– A Beautiful Mind, 2001 (film)
Margery Beltran is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Candidate for J.D., May 2017). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Family Science with a minor in Psychology from Towson University. Her interests include mental health and disability law and international alternative dispute resolution. Margie currently serves as the Volume V Comments Editor for the University of Baltimore’s Journal of International Law. She participated in the 2016 Summer Abroad Program at the University of Aberdeen School of Law in Aberdeen, Scotland. She is currently an intern in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Alternative Dispute Resolution Division.
[i] A Digest of the Criminal Law of England, as altered by the Recent Statutes for the Consolidation and Improvement of it: Volume II by Edward E. Deacon (1831). (Sir Edward Coke was an English barrister and later, a judge in the early 1600s).