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Baldia factory fire heirs want owners sentenced too

They have filed intervener applications in the Sindh High Court

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 16, 2020 | Last Updated: 10 months ago
Posted: Nov 16, 2020 | Last Updated: 10 months ago

In this file photo taken on September 13, 2012, people gather in a garments factory in Karachi following a fire, in which 264 people died on September 11, 2012. Photo: AFP

The heirs of the victims of the Baldia Factory Fire have filed an application in the Sindh High Court seeking punishment for the factory owners and government officials for their negligence in the case.

They have filed intervener applications on the appeals filed by Muhammad Zubair alias Chariya and Abdul Rehman alias Bhola in the Baldia factory fire case. The two MQM workers were sentenced to death by a Karachi anti-terrorism court for setting fire to the factory. Eight others were convicted too.

Intervener applications are filed when people want to be included in the case proceedings.

The application has been filed to bring on record that the ATC judge “relying on a new illegal and malafide investigation report” declared the owners of the Ali Enterprises factory innocent and ruled that the fire was a result of a terrorist attack by the MQM.

“The trial was a mistrial since not all the culprits were tried by the ATC and the conviction of the accused persons was based on a mistrial,” according to the application.

The applicants are seeking a retrial of the “real culprits”, including the owners of the factory and negligent government officials. “The applicant interveners are a necessary and proper party and their presence and assistance will help the court.”

After the fire in 2012, an FIR no 343 of 2012 was registered by the State against the owners and management of the Ali Enterprises Factory and various government officials. In the FIR, the following were identified as causes of the deaths:

  1. The building had inadequate safety measures and firefighting measures. There were no smoke alarms and hydrants were not working.
  2. The “rapid burning of the illegally constructed wooden mezzanine floor accelerated the fire and blocked the staircase.”
  3. Two exit doors of the second floor were permanently sealed by the factory owners and management. “This sealing was fatal as most of the workers were gathered on the second floor because it was payday and once the electricity went off, it was extremely difficult for the workers to find their way in the dark.”
  4. The windows were permanently sealed with steel grills because of which the workers could not even escape through the windows especially considering the exit doors had also been sealed.
  5. The factory was not registered or inspected for fire safety purposes by the Labour Department.
  6. The investigation concluded that it was an accidental fire either caused by a localized short circuit or by some negligent act of a worker but the investigation further concluded that although the possibility of mischief could not be ruled out as there was no evidence to suggest that the fire was caused due to any mischief, sabotage or terrorism.

The case proceedings took a different turn after an “interrogation report” was made public in 2015 and a new investigation team was formed. The team “promptly and shockingly declared the owners innocent” and charges were framed against the MQM leaders for causing a fire by throwing a chemical substance. “The presence of this chemical substance was remarkably discovered by a lab test, conducted three years after the fire and the extortion was allegedly proven by the payments made by the factory owners to members of the MQM, not before but after the fire,” said the application.

The applicants said that they are fighting for justice for the “264 deceased persons who lost their lives in the fire at Ali Enterprise Factory and 60 persons who were injured.”

The applicants include Husna Khatoon, the wife of Muhammad Waseem who died in the fire, Saeeda Khatoon, the wife of deceased factory worker Ilyas Ali, Muhammad Ishaque, Abdul Aziz Khan, and Muhammad Jameel Ahmed whose fathers died in the fire and Muhammad Hanif who was injured in the fire.

Baldia factory fire

Two-hundred-and-sixty-fours 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, were charged with setting the garment factory on fire after the factory owners refused to pay them Rs200 million as ‘protection’ money.

Bhola has been convicted 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.

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.

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