Even after 7 long years, fight of Baldia factory victims continues

The deadly fire left 260 workers dead.

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260 workers dead, 260 families left in tatters, 17 dead bodies, so rotten that they are still unidentified – even after seven years, the fight of Baldia factory victims goes on. The ordeal began on Sept 11, 2012, when the tall building of Ali Enterprises garment factory caught fire or was set alight.

Even after so many years, the authorities have failed to bring the alleged culprits to justice. Nine are the prime accused in the case, including MQM lawmaker and then provincial minister for commerce and industries Rauf Siddiqui, then MQM sector-in-charge Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola; Zubair, alias Chariya. It was alleged that the building was purposefully set on fire with the help of the gatekeeper – named Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood, and Ali Mohammad.

Why was the factory set on fire?

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According to the allegations, the factory was set on fire on the instructions of  Hammad Siddiqui, who was serving as the head of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee. It was a revenge activity after factory owners failed to pay Rs. 250 million protection money and refused partnership in the business.

Umar Hasan Qadri, Ali Hasan Qadri, Dr. Abdul Sattar Khan, and Iqbal Adeeb Khanum were booked for extracting a sum of Rs50.9m allegedly from the owners of factory owners as a compensation for the victims.

“Currently, two accused persons — Bhola and Chariya — are in jail,” said special public prosecutor representing the Rangers, Advocate Sajid Mehboob Sheikh speaking to Dawn.

Other accused, including business persons and the gatekeepers, are on the bail. However, the prime alleged culprit, Hammad, is still in Dubai and authorities have failed to bring him back.

“Qadri went to America for cancer treatment after obtaining bail from the trial court and he is said to be unable to travel back due to his worsening health condition,” they said.

The case took another turn in February 2015 when Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, submitted a joint investigation team (JIT) report in the Sindh High Court (SHC) stating that the factory was set on fire when the factory owners failed to pay extortion money.

Following the new development, a reinvestigation was ordered in the case and SHC directed the ATC to speedily push the trial forward.

ATC needs to decide the case within seven days according to Section 19 (7) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, but seven years linger on. Following a lengthy investigation, a supplementary investigation report was filed by the police on August 2016. The report only charge-sheeted Hammad Siddiqui, Bhola and their three to four unknown accomplices and did not send the 13 other suspects, including those proposed by the JIT, for trial.

“Six witnesses, four doctors, and two police officials have died a natural death during this period,” the prosecutor told the said source. 

The remaining witnesses now include more than 300 private persons, 259 legal heirs of the victims and 56 survivors. “So far, the testimonies of 396 witnesses have been recorded,” the Rangers prosecutor said.

“We are preparing to get the statements of the factory owners — Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila — recorded through the video-conferencing system from the Pakistan consulate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates,” said prosecutor Mehboob.


Also See: Blasphemy Laws, Mob Justice And Pakistan Politics

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