Prisoner with symptoms of mental illness, Ghulam Abbas, scheduled to be executed in two days
Islamabad, 15 June 2019: A sessions court in Rawalpindi on Tuesday issued death warrant of Ghulam Abbas, a prisoner with symptoms of mental illness, for his execution on June 18, 2019. Abbas has spent more than 13 years on death row.
“The Government of Pakistan must halt the imminent execution of Ghulam Abbas, a 36-year old death row prisoner with clear symptoms of mental illness, for further evaluation. The medical examination records show that jail authorities have treated him with strong anti-psychotic drugs,” said prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Malik Hussain Mubbashar, who has over 50 years of experience and has been appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to assist it as a mental health expert.
A fresh mercy petition has also been filed requesting the President to grant a pardon to Abbas.
Dr. Mubbashar, after examining Abbas’s medical records from the jail, along with his childhood and family medical history, gave his preliminary opinion stating that his health has deteriorated drastically over the last six months. His jail records show that he was frequently visited by doctors and psychiatrists but none of them reviewed his family history or his past medical records.
Abbas’s close relatives also claim that he has a family history of mental illness. His father was imprisoned for over 10 years during which time he exhibited signs of mental illness and even attempted suicide by slitting his throat but was saved by the jail staff. He never recovered from his illness and died soon after his release from prison. Abbas’s paternal aunts also suffer from mental and neurological disorders, with one of them requiring regular drainage of excess fluid from her brain. As per Dr. Mubbashar, there is a strong positive history of mental illness in the family, hence Abbas was genetically predisposed to suffer from the same.
Moreover, Abbas’s family claims that he has been suffering from Hepatitis and Tuberculosis (TB), but has yet to receive adequate treatment for it.
“Based on the conditions in the jail premises, it is entirely possible that Abbas has contracted these diseases and needs prompt medical attention. It would be cruel and inhumane to subject a sick man who has been left essentially untreated by his caretakers to execution when it is unequivocally clear that he is not fit to be hanged,” the doctor added.
He also wishes to examine Abbas in jail. “It is imperative that I be allowed to visit Mr. Abbas in jail in order to assess his mental health and physical condition. In my professional opinion, he should also be shifted to the Centre for Mental Health, Benazir Bhutto Hospital, Rawalpindi for proper care.”
Moreover, a larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is currently hearing a petition that is likely to spare the lives of mentally ill prisoners languishing on death row. Until then, death warrants must not be issued for mentally ill prisoners.
Imprisoned in 2004, Ghulam Abbas was sentenced to death on May 31, 2006, by a District and Sessions Court for stabbing a neighbour. According to his family, Ghulam Abbas suffered from learning disability due to mental subnormality as a child, which resulted in him remaining completely uneducated and devoid of even basic primary schooling. He also suffered from regular seizures, which according to Dr. Mubbashar points at the possibility of Abbas being epileptic.
Sarah Belal, Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan said, “Abbas’s execution if carried out at this stage, will constitute a gross violation of his right to dignity and will equal cruel and inhuman punishment. It serves no penal purpose to execute the mentally ill and incapacitated. Importantly, it will be an egregious violation of Islamic law. His execution must have stayed and he should be transferred to a mental health facility to be comprehensively assessed and to finally receive the treatment he has been denied thus far.”
Pakistan has signed international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibit the execution of mentally ill prisoners. The country’s compliance with its human rights obligations comes into question especially in light of the recent recommendations by the Human Rights Committee. The Committee recommended after Pakistan’s first ever periodic review that “No one with serious psychological or mental disabilities is executed or sentenced to death”. Islamic jurisprudence also disallows the death penalty for the mentally ill.
Earlier this year, another mentally ill prisoner, Khizar Hayat, passed away at a hospital after spending 16 years on death row. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Hayat was prescribed strong antipsychotic medication and spent the last six years of his life alone in the cell of his jail hospital, effectively living in solitary confinement. Four execution warrants were issued against Hayat and he eventually died on the night of March 21 this year.
Content credit: Justice Project Pakistan