Saleem Ahmad, a 63-year-old mentally-ill prisoner on death-row was arrested in Lahore on 30 July 2001. Saleem was accused of fatally shooting his sister after she allegedly refused to lend him money. Even though, the trial court acknowledged that he was “insane” and “did not have any orientation about time and space,” the medical board at the Lahore Mental Hospital declared him fit for trial under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Since then, Saleem’s case has been appealed in the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court, the latter of which dismissed his case on 24 May 2017, saying that he deserved no sympathy.
Saleem has been diagnosed “as a case of psychiatric illness” and has been on anti-psychotic drugs since 2013.
Currently, Saleem languishes in Kot Lakhpat Jail’s where he does not have access to proper mental health care. At every stage of his arrest, detention, trial and conviction, there has been suspicion of mental illness. He has spent over 14 years on death row.
A medical board must be constituted at the earliest to review his mental state to determine his competence to be executed. We also request the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain to accept Saleem’s mercy petition which is his last hope for receiving access to mental health care he desperately requires.
Background and Case History
At the time of the occurrence of the crime, Saleem was working in his family paint shop. During the trial court proceedings, Saleem was accused of borrowing money from his siblings. He would often come to see his sister, Nasreen Begum, and is said to have shot her after she refused to lend him money.
After the incident, Saleem’s family abandoned him. While the prosecution presented ten witnesses, Saleem did not even have representation until a medical board was constituted to represent him – one ordered by the judge based on Saleem’s erratic behavior in court.
His state appointed counsel presented no witnesses. He never brought up Saleem’s mental illness as a defence, despite Saleem’s own testimony stating that “I am mentally unfit and insane.”
The Investigating Officer in this case also mentioned in his testimony that he had heard of Saleem’s mental illness.
The judge, like many of those who have met, Saleem acknowledged his erratic behavior and noted that Saleem was not coherent. In his petition, Saleem claimed that under section 342 of the Criminal Penal Code he was mentally ill and insane. However, no record of his illness was presented before the court. The judge ordered a medical board to examine him which quickly concluded that he was fit for trial, despite stating that he was “shouting, dancing and uttering abusive language which is creating hindrance to proceed with the case” and that the “accused is uncontrollable” – all documented symptoms of psychosis.
According to Section 464 and 465 of the Criminal Penal Code, the judge is meant to call upon the doctors and psychiatrists to receive their statements after receiving the report. This procedure was never followed in Saleem’s case.
The prosecution built a strong case against Saleem, with little resistance from his own lawyer. Ultimately, Saleem was awarded the death penalty on 30 October, 2004.
Saleem appealed the trial court’s decision in 2007 which was finally heard by the Lahore High Court after 6 years in 2013. Saleem’s public counsel did not challenge the prosecution’s version of the case and the death penalty awarded to Saleem was upheld by the Lahore High Court.
Shortly after the Lahore High Court’s verdict on his case, Saleem’s case was appealed by the Superintendent of Kot Lakhpat Jail before the Supreme Court in October 2013. In May 2017, his case was finally reviewed 4 years after filing an appeal. The Supreme Court without even considering Saleem’s history of mental illness dismissed his appeal on the grounds that there was no shadow of doubt cast on the prosecution’s case against Saleem. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in his judgement stated that Saleem Ahmad was deserving of “no sympathy.”
Currently Saleem’s mercy petition is pending with the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain. Most members of Saleem’s family refuse to help him.
The Legal Basis for Commutation
Saleem’s case highlights the pressing need for legal frameworks to be implemented across the board for all prisoners, especially mentally ill prisoners in Pakistani jails. According to Rule 444 of the Prison’s Act, “a report regarding [a mentally ill prisoner’s] case shall be submitted to the Inspector-General for obtaining the orders of the Government for his removal to a Mental Hospital.” This is followed by Rule 445 which states that upon receiving the report from Government, “the Superintendent shall transfer [the mentally-ill prisoner] to the mental hospital specified.” Under these rules, Saleem Ahmad should have already been moved to a mental health facility outside jail premises. Instead his situation has worsened as a result of spending the last fourteen years in jail. Hundreds of other mentally-ill death row prisoners are repeatedly denied access to healthcare despite having diagnosed mental illnesses. Pardoning Saleem Ahmad will play a huge role in commuting the sentences of mentally-ill prisoners in Pakistani jails.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has recognized in various judgments that the execution of mentally-ill prisoners is prohibited as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Pakistan is a party. During Pakistan’s review in July 2017, the Human Rights Committee recommended that in cases the death penalty is maintained, it should be ensured on a priority basis that no one with serious psycho-social or intellectual disabilities is sentenced to death or executed. In case there is credible evidence that a condemned prisoner is mentally disabled, an independent mechanism should be established to review the case. Furthermore, the mental health of all prisoners on death row should be reviewed.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions has made repeated calls to states such as Pakistan, to stop executing those with mental disabilities, stating that “international law prohibits the capital punishment of mentally retarded or insane persons.” In his report in 1998 he stated: “Because of the nature of mental retardation, mentally retarded persons are much more vulnerable to manipulation during arrest, interrogation, and confession. Moreover, mental retardation appears not to be compatible with the principle of full criminal responsibility.” Paragraph three of Resolution 1984/5 of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council states that “persons who have become insane” shall not be sentenced to death.
The UN General Assembly resolution 69/186 titled ‘Moratorium on the use of the death penalty’ recommended under Article 5(d) not to impose the death penalty for offences committed by persons with mental or intellectual disabilities.
As the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the member-states of the UN approaches in November 2017, the issuance of execution warrants for a mentally-ill offender, such as Saleem Ahmad, will have a detrimental impact on Pakistan’s performance. This execution can become a source of international embarrassment for Pakistan as it will signal to the world that not only does it not uphold the rights of its citizens but that it also does not take its human rights obligations seriously.
Urgent Action Required
The Government of Pakistan must hold an urgent inquiry into Saleem’s case in accordance with Pakistan’s international obligations and accord him the benefit of the special remission allowed to mentally-ill both under Pakistan’s Prisons’ Act and the ICCPR.
Hanging Saleem will set a dangerous precedent where the fact of a citizen’s mental illness does not guarantee them the protections prescribed for them by law.
 U.N. Commission on Human Rights, “Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: Report by the Special Rapporteur,” E/CN.4/1998/68/Add.3, para. 145 (1998).
- Black warrant for mentally challenged prisoner stayed: Daily Times
- Execution of mentally ill prisoner halted by session judge: Pakistan Today
- A Sessions court stays execution of a mentally charged person: The Nation
- Pak court suspends execution of ‘mentally challenged’ murder: Outlook India
- Court suspends execution of mentally-challenged man: Express Tribune
- Execution of ‘mentally challenged’ man stayed in Lahore: Dawn
- Insanity plea: Editorial Express Tribune
Ask Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan to #BringItBack
Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan, we the undersigned call on you to show mercy to the mentally ill, the physically disabled and juvenile offenders who are currently on death row. We strongly urge you to undertake action to reform our criminal justice system that continues to punish only the most vulnerable members of our society. We demand that until this is done, the Government of Pakistan reinstates the moratorium on the death penalty.
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