Imdad Ali

Date.10 Feb, 2021

Imdad Ali, 57 year-old severely mentally ill prisoner, has suffered more than 18 years on death row without proper treatment. He was sentenced to death in 2002 for fatally shooting a religious teacher. 

During the course of his incarceration, he has been repeatedly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and several medical reports have confirmed over the years that he is suffering from psychotic symptoms actively and is “a treatment-resistant case.” 

He spent the last four years in solitary confinement in the hospital cell of district jail, Vehari, owing to the nature of his mental illness. In Sept 2020, he was shifted to Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH).




Supreme Court commutes
Imdad’s death sentence


Imdad comes from an extremely poor family and after he was convicted, he could not afford the opinions of private medical consultants which would detail his mental illness in court. Imdad was eventually sentenced to death for shooting a religious teacher with a rifle in 2001.

His mental illness was first noticed by his family in 1998 after he returned from a work trip from Saudi Arabia. According to them, Imdad would be found talking to himself or to objects. Imdad’s wife raised his mental condition in the trial court but the prosecution alleged that he was able to respond rationally to questions put to him. The judge also failed to mention his mental illness in his conclusion when sentencing him to death.

Despite clear evidence of mental illness, Imdad’s appeals have been repeatedly dismissed by the courts, his mercy petitions have been rejected, and his death warrants were issued twice in 2016.




The landmark judgment by the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Imdad Ali and Kanizan Bibi to life imprisonment and stated that “if a condemned prisoner, due to mental illness, is found to be unable to comprehend the rationale and reason behind his/her punishment, then carrying out the death sentence will not meet the ends of justice.”

The apex court also directed the Government of Punjab to immediately shift Imdad and Kanizan from prison to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health for treatment and rehabilitation.

The judgment, which is likely to set a precedent for all mentally ill prisoners on death row, outlined a set of recommendations including amendments to relevant laws, the Prison Rules and jail manuals, as well as establishing mental health facilities for assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill under-trial prisoners and convicts. 



Imdad Ali was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by jail authorities in 2012, even though his medical records from as early as 2009 have consistently shown him to be exhibiting psychiatric problems. Those who know him, including his family and neighbours, state that the symptoms of his mental illness had been present for many years before the incident even took place. Imdad’s jail medical records show that he has continuously been treated for serious mental illness following his diagnosis; he has been regularly visited by a consultant psychiatrist and prescribed strong anti-psychotic medicines.

It is clear from the records that his mental illness has led to not just extreme mental anguish and suffering, but also physical pain, caused in part by his own delusional behaviour and also by the physical abuse and torment he has suffered at the hands of other inmates.



Imdad’s case came into the limelight in 2016 when the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal stating that “schizophrenia is a curable disease” and not a mental illness. Following public outcry, a fresh petition from his lawyers, and a review filed by the government of Punjab, his third execution warrant was prevented from being issued.

In April 2018, the Supreme Court took a suo motu notice of another mentally ill prisoner Kanizan Bibi and clubbed Imdad’s case with it. Ordering fresh medical examinations of both the prisoners, the apex court stated that this case will set a precedent for all mentally ill prisoners on death row.

“Neither reason nor sensibility allow me to believe that we can execute a mentally ill or disabled person,” Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had remarked during the proceedings, recalling that international legal systems have unequivocally forbidden the execution of mentally ill persons.

A five-member bench resumed hearing the case in September 2020 after nearly two years and reserved its judgment on January 7, 2021. The case is likely to set a precedent that can save the mentally ill from being executed in Pakistan.


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