Kanizan Bibi

Date.10 Feb, 2021

Kanizan Bibi suffers from severe schizophrenia and has spent more than 30 years in prison. She was arrested in 1989 as a juvenile and sentenced to death in 1991 as an accomplice in the murder of six individuals. She has always maintained her innocence. 


She was first shifted from Lahore Central Jail (Kot Lakhpat) to Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) in 2006 and then again in 2018 and was constantly being treated for her mental illness.


During the course of her incarceration, her medical condition deteriorated so much that she has not spoken a word in decades.






Supreme Court commutes
Kanizan’s death sentence


Kanizan Bibi was born into a very poor family and worked as a housemaid to help make ends meet. In 1989, her employer’s wife and children were found murdered, for which Kanizan and her employer were subsequently arrested and convicted. According to her family, the real culprits, who were engaged in a longstanding land dispute with Kanizan’s employer, had been arrested but were later released after they bribed the police. They then filed a false police report accusing Kanizan.

Kanizan has repeatedly insisted on her innocence. The only evidence presented during her trial was also highly suspect. She was sentenced to death by Additional Sessions Judge, Toba Tek Singh in 1991, and her subsequent appeals in the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court have been dismissed.

Despite her long history of mental illness, the President dismissed her petition for mercy along with those of over sixty others in 1999.



The Supreme Court resumed hearing the case of three mentally ill death row prisoners – Kanizan Bibi, Imdad Ali and Ghulam Abbas – in September 2020, nearly two years after taking a suo motu notice of Kanizan Bibi’s case. The five-member bench headed by Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik and comprising Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel reserved the judgment on January 7, 2021 amid a consensus from the amici curiae and advocate generals that mentally ill inmates should not be executed. 

During the 2018 hearing, the then-chief justice Saqib Nisar had observed that it is “beyond sense or reason that we execute mentally ill individuals”.
The court had then ordered to shift Kanizan Bibi to PIMH and provide her the best possible treatment and care. It also ordered the constitution of a board to evaluate her mental health.

After holding daily hearings in early January 2021, the Supreme Court delivered a historic judgement that is likely to set a precedent for mentally ill prisoners on death row in Pakistan.



The landmark judgment by the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Kanizan Bibi and Imdad Ali 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 Kanizan and Imdad 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.



Kanizan’s mental health began to deteriorate soon after she was sentenced to death. Increasingly concerned about her condition, jail authorities referred her case to the Home Department and, in 2006, she was transferred to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) where her diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia was confirmed by successive medical boards.

Kanizan’s illness has caused her to lose any ability to understand her surroundings. At times, she has been unable to even feed and clothe herself. As the hospital staff has confirmed, she has not spoken a word in the eight years she has spent in their care.



Kanizan Bibi’s conviction largely rested on a testimony she gave after being tortured in custody for 20 days. According to her family, the abuse was so severe that she had to be admitted to a hospital at one point. She was beaten severely and electrocuted, and mice were also let loose in her shalwar. Although Kanizan challenged the ‘confession’ saying it was involuntary, the court nonetheless relied on it while sentencing her to death.


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