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Friday May 17, 2024

Baldia factory tragedy: Death sentences of MQM's workers upheld by SHC

Tragedy that claimed 260 lives happened exactly 11 years ago today

By Amin Anwar
September 11, 2023
A view of the burnt factory in Baldia Town, Karachi. — AFP/File
A view of the burnt factory in Baldia Town, Karachi. — AFP/File

The Sindh High Court on Monday upheld the death sentences of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) activist Abdul Rehman and Zubair in the Baldia factory fire case.

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) had sentenced Rehman and Zubair to death under charges of murder, extortion, arson and terrorism, which the two had appealed in the province's top court.

Moreover, in its verdict, the SHC also rejected the government's appeal against the acquittal of four accused, including MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui, Umar Hasan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan and Iqbal Adeeb Khanum for want of evidence.

The Sindh top court, however, accepted the appeals of the four accused sentenced to life imprisonment.

The appeals were heard by a high court division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha, who reserved the judgment on August 29.

Factory employees and gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad — were sentenced to life imprisonment by the ATC, but the SHC in its verdict today accepted their appeals against their sentences and declared the sentences void.

Following the verdict, Siddiqui said: "Double standard of justice is the reason for Pakistan's poor condition."

"I feel that the whole case was against me," the MQM leader remarked adding that his party's workers were present at the time of the incident and were breaking walls to evict people.

He further said that as the minister of commerce, he had no role in the incident or its proceedings but resigned from his position at the time.

"32 cases were made against me, I was acquitted in all cases," he said, adding that he had faced all the cases.

I have appeared in all courts, including the high court, and Supreme Court, he said.

Exactly 11 years ago, in 2012, a deadly inferno claimed the lives of hundreds of workers at a factory in the city’s Baldia Town.

260 workers were burnt alive while working in the factory in the metropolis.

According to the prosecution, the factory was set on fire by MQM leaders and activists over the non-payment of Rs250 million in extortion. The main accused, Rehman, had admitted in a confessional statement that the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Baldia Town was set on fire on the order of former MQM Karachi Tanzeemi Committee incharge Hammad Siddiqui over the factory owners’ refusal to pay Rs250 million in extortion.

Appellants counsel Mohammad Farooq, Hassan Sabir and others denied the prosecution charges and laid the blame on the factory owners for the fire in their appeals. They contended that the factory doors were closed when the fire broke out on the orders of the owners.

They submitted that there was no emergency exit for the workers when the fire broke out and the people died in the fire due to the negligence of the factory owners and the related departments.

They further submitted that the factory owners were held responsible for the fire in the initial report, but they were acquitted in the joint investigation report. They said that entire evidence was relied on findings of the joint investigation teams by the prosecution, which has no legal value, and no material witnesses were examined by them.

They submitted that the trial court had not scrutinised the evidence with regard to cause of the fire and examination of chemicals used to cause the fire. They said no CCTV camera footage had been included as evidence in the trial court, and appealed to the court to set aside the trial court order with regard to the convictions of the appellants.

The additional prosecutor general supported the trial court order and submitted that the prosecution proved its case beyond any reasonable doubt. He submitted that more than 260 people lost their lives due to the criminal act of the appellants, and requested the court to dismiss the appeals.