LAHORE: District and Sessions Judge Abid Hussain Qureshi halted the execution of Muhammad Saleem Ahmed, a severely mentally ill prisoner on Saturday. He was due to be executed on Tuesday, November 7th, in Central Jail, Lahore.
Saleem was sentenced to death in 2004. Since then, he has been diagnosed with psychological illness by Punjab Institute of Mental Health. He remains in the psychiatric cells of Central Jail Lahore, having spent nearly 14 years on death row.
Saleem, 63, was arrested in Lahore on July 30th, 2001 when he was accused of fatally shooting his sister, Nasreen Begum.
Even though doubts about the mental condition of the accused were raised several times during his incarceration and trial, the Lahore Mental Hospital declared him fit to stand trial in 2002.
The request for Saleem’s execution warrants was forwarded by jail authorities.
Saleem appealed to the Lahore High Court in 2013 where his state-appointed counsel did not challenge the prosecution’s version of the case and Saleem’s death sentence was upheld. The Supreme Court dismissed Saleem’s appeal in May this year, without being presented the facts of his mental illness.
The National Commission on Human Rights has also initiated an inquiry into the mental condition of the inmate and has asked the Inspector General Prisons to file a reply within 72 hours.
Mentally ill defendants repeatedly slip through the cracks in Pakistan’s criminal justice system. The lack of mental health treatment and training in the criminal justice system means that many individuals never even get diagnosed.
The Supreme Court itself is familiar of this, with Justice Umar Ata Bandial stating in May this year, that it would be unfair to punish the mentally ill.
With the situation of human rights in country up for international scrutiny in less than 10 days, there is a need in Pakistan to provide legal and social aid to all differently abled prisoners in Pakistan who, for the lack of effort languish away in prison cells for long periods of time.