Boris Johnson must raise case of mentally ill Pakistani facing execution

September 30, 2016

Image of a noose hanging in a dark room

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been urged to intervene in the case of a severely mentally ill man who faces imminent execution in Pakistan, amid concerns over UK policing assistance to the country.

Imdad Ali is a former electrician from Pakistan who is severely mentally ill, and who was sentenced to death over a shooting. He has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and a 2013 medical report declared him “insane.”

The execution of mentally ill people is prohibited under Pakistani and international law. However, the Pakistani authorities have indicated that they plan to hang Mr Ali, and earlier this week the Pakistani Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by his lawyers – meaning that he could be slated for execution as early as next week. Mr Ali would be the latest prisoner to fall victim to a resumption of hangings in the country, which has seen some 419 prisoners executed since December 2014.

The UK government has a close relationship with Pakistan, and there are fears that close cooperation on security and policing could put British officers at risk of complicity in Pakistani rights abuses, such as police torture and executions. The Home Office has long provided assistance to Pakistani police – including for arrests that have led to the handing down of death sentences. According to reports, UK police recently discussed the provision of further training and investigation assistance to police in the country. When she was Home Secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May met frequently with Home Department minister Chaudry Nisar, who is responsible for Pakistan’s prisons and the country’s justice system.

Human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Ali’s lawyers in Pakistan – wrote to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this week, urging him to contact the Pakistani government and call for a halt to Mr Ali’s execution.

A growing number of celebrities, MPs and NGOs have also raised concerns over Mr Ali’s possible execution. Yesterday, voices including Stephen Fry – who has been outspoken about mental health issues – comedian Frankie Boyle, actress Gemma Chan, and scholar Tariq Ramadan joined Reprieve and Amnesty International in calling on the Pakistani president to grant mercy to Mr Ali. A petition by Reprieve to save Mr Ali has reached nearly 17,000 signatories.

Mr Ali comes from an extremely poor family. His family began to notice signs of mental illness as long ago as 1998 – but they could not afford to pay for private medical assessments, which could have identified his mental illness, and possible treatments, earlier.

Commenting, Kate Higham – Regional Lead for the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan at Reprieve – said:

“The Pakistani authorities don’t dispute that Imdad Ali is seriously mentally ill, and yet the government may still be set to hang him as early as next week. If Imdad is executed, it will be a grave breach of international legal treaties to which both Pakistan and the UK are signatories. Britain is an important voice in Pakistan – Boris Johnson must join the growing calls for Imdad to be saved, and intervene urgently with the Pakistani authorities.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at]

2. A recent report on the UK’s provision of training to Pakistani police is here.

3. Reprieve’s petition calling on Pakistan’s President to grant mercy to Imdad Ali is here.

4. More information about Imdad Ali is available at the Reprieve website.