It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the demise of Khizar Hayat, a mentally ill prisoner who spent the last 16 years of his life on death row waiting for justice. He is survived by four children and his mother.
Khizar, 56, passed away on the night of March 21 at Jinnah Hospital Lahore. He was hospitalized in critical condition when he stopped taking any food or medication. The jail authorities reported him to be “severely anaemic and hypotensive”. He was shifted on a feeding tube by the doctors. His condition kept deteriorating and he fell unconscious during his final hours.
Just two months ago, Khizar’s life was spared after the former chief justice Saqib Nisar suspended his 4th execution warrant on January 14th. The suspension came in the wake of a public campaign propelled by the civil society, psychiatrists, artists, and journalists highlighting the plight of the mentally ill death row prisoner online and in the media. UN experts had also urged the government to halt the execution.
A two-member bench referred Khizar’s case to a larger bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan currently hearing the cases of two other schizophrenic death row prisoners Imdad Ali and Kanizan Bibi. This case is likely to set a precedent for mentally ill death row prisoners in Pakistan. Unfortunately, Khizar passed away before any progress could be made in this case. His mercy petition also remained pending before the President of Pakistan, who has the ultimate authority to pardon death row prisoners under Article 45 of the Constitution.
Khizar was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by jail authorities in 2008. His mental health record consistently referred to his delusions, psychosis, and his mental illness, and showed that he has been prescribed powerful anti-psychotic medication. The conditions of his incarceration made his mental illness progressively worse.
Khizar spent the last six years alone in his cell in the jail hospital, effectively living in solitary confinement, despite the fact that such punishment for the mentally ill is prohibited under Pakistani law; not even for the most heinous offences. In his final years, Khizar lost all awareness of his surroundings and did not know where he was.
Pakistan has signed international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits the execution of mentally ill prisoners. Islamic jurisprudence also disallows the death penalty for the mentally ill.
Yet, 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, as well as in Pakistan generally, means that many individuals never even get diagnosed. In fact, for many indigent mentally ill defendants, their first contact with a mental health professional is in jail..
Executive Director Justice Project Pakistan, Sarah Belal adds “It is immensely tragic that Khizar Hayat left the world waiting for justice, having remained deprived of any adequate care for too long. Khizar’s case is a shocking example of why mentally ill prisoners do not deserve the death penalty. They require proper attention and belong at mental health facilities, not strung up on the gallows in horrid confinements of the jails.”