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Sindh High Court to hear petitions challenging Baldia verdict

MQM workers were sentenced to death on Sept 22

SAMAA | - Posted: Oct 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: Oct 12, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago

The Sindh High Court will take up the petitions of Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Charya and others challenging their sentences in the Baldia factory fire case.

Other petitioners include Fazal Ahmed, Hakeem and Arshad Mehmood.

The court has issued notices to the prosecutor general and asked the respondents to submit a copy of the verdict and case records in four months.

The appeal, filed on October 7, argues that the ATC ignored important evidence while pronouncing its verdict. They have asked the high court to overturn the ATC’s verdict.

The Karachi ATC sentenced them to death on September 22 for setting fire to a garments factory in Baldia Town in 2012, which claimed the lives of 259 people.

MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui was acquitted in the case along with Dr Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri, and Areeb Khanum. The court ruled that there was a lack of evidence against them.

Baldia factory fire

Two-hundred-and-fifty-nine workers were burnt alive in a factory in Karachi’s Baldia Town on September 11, 2012. The factory, Ali Enterprises, is located on Hub River Road and belongs to Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his two sons, Rashid Aziz and Shahid Aziz. German discount clothing retailer KiK (Kunde ist König, which in English translates into ‘Customer is King’) was the factory’s main customer.

Nine people affiliated with the MQM, including Rauf Siddiqui, Rehman Bhola, a former sector in-charge, and Zubair alias Charya, have been charged with setting the garment factory on fire after the factory owners refused to pay them Rs200 million as ‘protection’ money.

Bhola has been accused of throwing a chemical at the factory and setting it on fire on the instructions of the former chief of the MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui, according to the report of the third JIT formed in the case. The Sindh government has made the report public.

The allegations against the MQM came to light after the 2015 testimony of an MQM worker, Muhammad Rizwan Qureshi alias Pringle. He told investigators that the Baldia factory fire was started after factory owners refused to pay extortion money to party leaders. To investigate these claims, a third JIT was formed comprising members of intelligence agencies and the police.

When the case was first reported, the Bhaila brothers were charged with murder under sections 302 (murder), 435 (mischief by fire or explosives), 436 (mischief by fire or explosives with the intention to destroy a house), 337 (causing hurt), 322 (unintentional death) and 34 (common intent) of the Pakistan Penal Code and the government officials charged with criminal negligence. They were arrested and sent to jail.

One of the factory workers who survived the fire claimed in his testimony that three of the four exits of the factory were locked when the fire erupted. The testimony was later retracted.

It was being claimed that a short circuit was the most probable cause of the fire, especially because the factory was working on overload when the fire occurred. The factory was consuming 318 KW of electricity against the 210 KW for which it had been given permission, wrote Laurent Gayer in his 2018 article on the Baldia factory fire.

After Qureshi’s testimony, however, the trial took a new turn and the murder charges were dropped against the owners. The brothers were granted bail in February 2013 and eventually fled to Dubai and have been living there since. They recorded their statements in the case via video link.

In 2015, Muhammad Hanif, Muhammad Jabbir, Abdul Aziz Khan Yousuf Zai, and Saeeda Khatoon, all members of the Baldia Factory Fire Association, an organisation which is being run by those who lost their loved ones in the fire, travelled to Germany and filed a 30,000 Euro compensation claim for each victim against KiK. They argued that, although the retailer did not cause the fire, it shared the blame for the lack of safety measures at the factory. The court rejected the suit in 2019, saying that a civil suit was not filed within the applicable period of two years.

Bhola was arrested by the Bangkok Crime Suppression Division (CSD) in December 2016 and extradited to Pakistan. He was reportedly living in a five-star hotel in Bangkok.

On February 9, 2017 KiK released $5.15 million in compensation. The amount has been transferred to an International Labor Union (ILO) account in Geneva. The textile factory and the victims’ families, however, still disagree over the responsibility of the catastrophe.

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