Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that certain mentally ill prisoners with a certification by a medical board will be exempted from the death penalty.
"If a condemned prisoner, due to mental illness, is found to be unable to comprehend the rationale and reason behind his/her punishment, then carrying out the death sentence will not meet the ends of justice," the court ruled.
The case concerned three mentally ill inmates who have spent decades on death row.
Kanizan Bibi and Imdad Ali, two prisoners who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had their sentences commuted by the court.
The Supreme Court also ordered officials to apply for a fresh mercy petition for a third inmate, Ghulam Abbas. He has spent over 15 years on death row.
'A dream come true'
Human rights groups welcomed the court ruling.
"The SC finally weighs in on the question & upholds the rights of the most vulnerable prisoners in our justice system. A dream come true," tweeted Sarah Belal, head of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP).
The organization has been advocating for mentally ill prisoners to be exempted from death, and represented the inmates in the Supreme Court case.
"We hope the guidelines detailed in the judgment will permeate to all levels of the judiciary and prison staff so that mental illness can be detected and treated instead of being ignored and denied," JPP spokesman Ali Haider Habib said.
Legal changes on horizon?
The top court in its judgment asked authorities to make necessary amendments in the relevant laws and rules.
It said the exemptions of the mentally ill prisoners require certification by a medical board.
There are currently 4,225 people on death row in Pakistan. The South Asian country lifted a six-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in 2014 after a children's school was attacked, killing 150 people.
More than 500 people have been executed since 2014.
bj/rs (dpa, AP)