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October 19, 2019

With last witness set to be heard on Oct 28, Baldia factory fire trial ‘now in final phase’


October 19, 2019

Special public prosecutor Sajid Mehboob Shaikh said on Friday that the Baldia factory fire case had entered the final phase as only one witness was left to be heard by the trial court.

The special public prosecutor, who represents the Rangers, said that police had named 768 witnesses in the charge sheet and of these 368 were given up for being unnecessary. The Anti-Terrorism Court – 7, which is conducting the trial inside the Central Prison, ordered the last witness to appear to record a statement on the next hearing on October 28.

Two-hundred-and-sixty people were killed and 49 injured in the massive fire at the Ali Enterprises garments factory in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012. The incident is regarded as one the deadliest industrial disasters, an eye opener for the dangerous working conditions in factories and a reminder of the lawlessness in the country.

The prosecution says the factory was set on fire by men belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement because the factory owners had refused to pay them extortion. Arshad Bhaila, an owner of the factory, had testified in the court that MQM men asked him to pay Rs250 million in extortion or 50 percent shares in the profits. He said he was willing to pay Rs10 million.

Independent opinions suggest that regardless of the cause of the fire, the casualties occurred because the factory lacked basic occupational health and safety standards and the building design was flawed.

According to London-based research group Forensic Architecture, which conducted an analysis of the fire using computer simulation, inadequate safety measures at the factory led to the catastrophic death toll.

On Friday, the court also heard the cross examination done by the defence lawyers on SSP Sajid Sadozai, who acted as the investigation officer in the third joint investigation team made in February 2015.

The case is based on the findings of the JIT report, which states that it was an arson incident and the scene was compromised due to fire rescue activities and time lapse. The report also disapproves an electrical short circuit which previous investigations held as the reason for the fire.

Sadozai also said that earlier investigations were conducted under pressure from the MQM, which enjoyed governmental and criminal influences at that time. He said that a statement of alleged hitman Rizwan Qureshi had paved the way for the third investigation into the case.

According to a report submitted by the paramilitary Rangers to the Sindh High Court in early 2015, Qureshi had narrated a scene of how the Baldia factory fire occurred. In his statement, he had implicated the MQM for being behind the incident.

The statement was given in June/July 2013, but it was made public or action was taken on it two years later. Until then, two of the prime suspects, Hammad Siddiqui and Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, had left Pakistan.

Nine suspects currently face the trial, including then MQM’s commerce and industries minister Rauf Siddiqui, some factory employees and private persons. Of these, Rehman and Zubair alias Charya, MQM workers, are in judicial custody.

The rest of the defendants are on bail. Only two are absconding, namely Siddiqui and Ali Hasan Qadri.

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