Why is our criminal justice system punishing a paranoid schizophrenic?

Published: September 25, 2016

What purpose will the execution of Imdad Ali serve? PHOTO: TWITTER/GulfTimes_QATAR

The mere mention of a crime engages our natural thought process into gauging a punishment for it. Some would just ask what punishment a specific crime entails, some of us would delve into arguing what purpose a particular punishment serves, while others would discuss whether a punishment is adequate or not. We all have our own thought processes and ideologies about what is acceptable as a punishment. However, what is important is to remember the basic idea behind it is.

The purpose ranges from retributive to utilitarian to rehabilitative. All punishments must serve some purpose otherwise it would be a futile exercise to impose any form of sentence for a crime. After all, what would be the point of punishing someone if it has no impact on them? Or when the person being punished is incapable of understanding why he is being punished or what lead to the punishment.

With that in mind, what purpose will the execution of Imdad Ali serve? For those of you who are unaware, Imdad Ali is a 50-year-old death row inmate. He was convicted of murder in 2001 and has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia since. His family members were aware that he was mentally unfit and it was pointed out at the trial as well. However, this defence was rejected because of a judicial precedent that states that if the accused flees the scene of the crime he cannot be considered mentally unfit. He was due to be executed on September 20, 2016. Nevertheless, a last minute stay due to the efforts of Justice Project Pakistan has halted his execution till next week.

Before we go any further, I must say that murder is a heinous and horrible crime and anyone who commits the crime should be punished. However, to punish someone who cannot even understand why he is being punished, or what punishment he is being given is a crime in itself. His wife, after her last visit to him reported that he had no idea that he was going to die.

How will capital punishment achieve any purpose in the case of a paranoid schizophrenic?

With regard to the judicial precedent that I mentioned above, what I fail to understand is how fleeing from the scene of the crime can have any bearing on whether a person is lucid or not. I’m sure that sometimes even innocent people flee from the scene of a crime. How can that determine whether one is of unsound mind? What about the guilty people who remain at the scene of the crime? This precedent has opened the door for unjust decisions to fly through.

Why do I say that?

Because, it was due to this precedent that a mentally unstable man is on death row and this is just one case that we are all aware of. How many disabled people will have to be hanged before it is realised that this precedent can cause more injustice than justice, ever?

The death of the victim was the result of a mentally unstable man falling prey to a disability of the mind. That death was caused by something which was not in Imdad Ali’s control. To this date, Ali does not have much in his control. He is not even aware of what is happening around him.

To punish a criminal is justified. But what justice would this one do?

On the contrary, this is a terrible injustice to a mentally disabled man who has been on death row for the past 15-16 years for a crime he does not even understand he committed.

I’ve been trying really hard to understand what purpose this would serve.

Will it act as a deterrent?

If so, for whom? Mentally unstable people, or mentally stable people?

Will it be a form of retributive justice? Possibly.

If so, one begs the following question: is retribution – an eye for an eye, the foundation for our Criminal Justice system in the case of the mentally unfit?

Ironically so, the Pakistan Penal Code states that the death penalty shall not be imposed on an offender who is a minor or is insane. Then why is this not being followed? Is our criminal justice system so blind that it does not recognise the plethora of evidence suggesting that Imdad Ali is a paranoid schizophrenic?

Another factor to note is that Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention not only guarantees the inherent dignity of individuals with disabilities but also gives protection to the disabled individuals from cruel punishment. A man who is clearly suffering from a disability has been in jail for the last 15 years and has not received treatment for his condition. Rather, he has been put in a place where his condition has only become worse.

How is that not a form of cruel punishment? To let a human being deteriorate into his disability and then to hang him for something that has resulted from that disability? By allowing the execution of Imdad Ali, our country will not only be failing to honour its international obligations but it will fail its very own citizens.

People with serious disabilities exist in our country and they need help and support from the State. They need the State to provide facilities for proper treatment. They need the State to recognise that acts committed by the mentally unstable are beyond their control and contemplation as crimes. They need the justice system to recognise these disabilities and how they impact people.

To punish Imdad Ali by execution will be to fail as a State and uphold a flawed system of justice.

Maryam Malik

Maryam Malik

The author is a Barrister and the recipient of the Joan Denning Prize for being the top performing student in the Bar Professional Training Course amongst all Commonwealth countries. Her interests include writing, reading and public speaking.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Silver Black

    Sorry to say but the entire article is left pointless by the fact that other than the author saying he is “Paranoid Schizophrenic” She has failed to deliver proof. Yes an insane person may not judged as a sane one, but how do we ascertain if he really is “insane” and not pretending? Oh yeah, he says, he doesn’t remember so that absolves him?. And what about the victim and his/her family? A schizophrenic is running around has a family, wife and probably kids too and yet the author is trying to establish that everyone should forget about the victim and no should be blamed.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    The medical science has reached a point where the doctors can distinguish between an insane and a sane person.

    Mullah-inspired-people would never get what the author is trying to say. She is talking about stuff that is usually discussed only in the western civilized societies, not in hardcore Islamist countries.Recommend

  • Saqib Ali Rana

    he is punished so that he doesn’t go on killing another person, ‘forgetting it again’.
    even american courts don’t accept amnesia defense. amnesia defense is only accepted in cases when the complete details of the case cannot be figured out without the help of the suspect.Recommend

  • free after death

    Loved the article and every meaningful word written in it . I would like to add that no person having a healthy mind and in his right state of mind would go to such an extreme that they end up taking someones life .There are always serious psychological problems attached to them therefore i wish someday the death sentence punishment can be completely removed and our judiciary gains some sense but it seems a distant dream for now !Recommend

  • legalbee

    He has been declared mentally unfit by Medical professionals and I do believe that we live in the 21st century where doctors are clearly capable of determining the state of mind of a fit or unfit person. Secondly, even the courts have conceded that he is a mentally ill person. Thirdly, it is not the author’s duty to deliver proof on a blog, it is the duty of the legal professional handling the case to do so, which they clearly have done.
    Fourthly, no body is saying that he should be absolved of his crime and the victim be forgotten. He should be treated for his condition. We live in a world where disabilities and the mental condition of an individual is taken very seriously and even in the UK, there is a recognized verdict called the “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict, whereby an insane person, though is guilty of the crime but rather than being given life imprisonment to be put in a prison cell where his condition will only get worse is kept in the custody of a hospital and medical professionals where they can treat him.
    Lastly, it is within the Pakistan Penal Code that an insane or mentally incapable person will not be given the punishment of the death penalty. Furthermore, Section 84 of the PPC states that nothing done by a person of unsound mind is to be considered an offence – which includes the situation if by reason of unsoundness of mind he is incapable of knowing the nature of his act or unable to distinguish between right and wrong or knowing whether his act is contrary to law.

    Try to understand the legal situation. This is a legal matter and not a matter of your and anyone’s prejudice towards disabled people which is quite clear from the way you have framed your comment. Also, please be very clear that Imdad Ali is not a schizophrenic running around. He is a schizophrenic confined to the four walls of a prison cell where he he has been for 15 years.

    Nobody has forgotten the victim and by allowing Imdad Ali to be given treatment, he won’t be forgotten. You probably did not understand the article clearly. The author has spoken about retributive justice. Unfortunately, this form of justice has no purpose to serve when it comes to a person who is mentally disabled and no idea of what is happening around him.Recommend