Amnesty International Friday protested a "reprehensible" ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court that said schizophrenia is "not a permanent mental disorder", in a decision that paves the way for execution of a mentally ill man.
Lawyers and rights groups say convicted murderer Imdad Ali, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in prison in 2012, cannot be executed as he cannot understand his crime and punishment.
However in a detailed judgement issued Thursday the Supreme Court said schizophrenia was an "imbalance", exacerbated by stress, that could be treated by drugs.
Therefore it was a "recoverable disease" and not a mental disorder, according to the ruling.
As such, it could not be used to delay Ali's death sentence, which now could go ahead as early as next week.
Rights groups slammed the ruling, with Amnesty calling it "a deeply worrying development".
"It is utterly reprehensible if this Supreme Court judgment leads to the execution of Imdad Ali, who has been clearly diagnosed as mentally ill," said Champa Patel, Amnesty's South Asia programme director, in a statement.
International laws regarding mental disability are "important safeguards", she added. Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, called the ruling "outrageous" and said it flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge -- including in Pakistan. "It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition," Foa said, demanding Pakistan's president intervene. Ali, aged 50, was sentenced to death for the murder of a cleric in 2002. He had been sentenced to hang last month, but received a last minute stay of execution by the Supreme Court. But with that stay now expired, he could receive a new "black warrant" and face execution as early as Wednesday.
The high court rejected her plea on August 23, forcing the wife to approach the Supreme Court. https://t.co/Zupq9ZWPVY— News18 (@CNNnews18) October 21, 2016
Just when you think you've seen it all, we raise the bar https://t.co/QVtiTNSAyW #Pakistan — Yusra Askari (@YusraSAskari) October 21, 2016
Pakistan reinstated the death penalty and established military courts after suffering its deadliest-ever extremist attack, when gunmen stormed a school in the northwest in 2014 and killed more than 150 people -- mostly children.
Hangings were initially reinstated only for those convicted of terrorism, but later extended to all capital offences, with over 400 people hung from more than 8,000 death row prisoners.
A new report by Justice Project Pakistan and Yale Law School issued in September said Pakistan's criminal legal system is riddled with errors that prevent it from adjudicating capital cases fairly.
It accused authorities of having hanged six people who were juveniles at the time of their offences, in breach of international law, and said the length of time prisoners spent on death row -- 11.5 years on average -- harms their mental and physical health.