Muttahida Qaumi Movement MQM workers, Rehman Bhola, and Zubair alias Charya have challenged the death sentences, in the Sindh High Court handed to them in the Baldia factory arson case by an anti-terrorism court.
According to the details, the appeals filed argued that the ATC ignored important evidence while announcing 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.
Four watchmen posted outside the factory when the fire erupted will, however, be arrested for showing negligence. They are currently out on bail.
Hammad Siddiqui, on whose orders Bhola set fire to the factory, remains absconding in the case. He is said to be outside Pakistan.
The hearing was held at ATC VII inside Karachi Central Jail on September 22. A total of 170 hearings were held and the verdict has been given after eight years.
A fire broke out in a denim factory near Hub River Road in the Baldia area of Karachi on September 11, 2012, killing 260 workers and injuring about 50 others.
The JIT report, made in June 2015, two and a half years after the incident, came to light five years later.
The report recommended that the FIR was filed based on” dishonesty” due to the internal and external pressure which turned the act of “terrorism” into a normal fire incident. Therefore, the FIR filed earlier should be returned and a new FIR should be registered.
It was recommended to include names of Rehman Bhola, Hamad Siddiqui, Zubair Charia, four unidentified accomplices, Umar Hassan Qadri, Dr. Abdul Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri, and Iqbal Adib Khanum in the new FIR.
Timeline Of Investigations
The initial investigation of the case was completed by inspector Chowdhary Zafar Iqbal, who visited the factor immediately after the fire, prepared a memo of inspection, and issued letters to different departments for determining the cause of the fire.
During the course of the investigation, he arrested three nominated accused and issued notice to the factory owners and seized their accounts.
In September 2012, SIP Jahanzeb took over the investigation after Zafar was suspended.
SIP declared the fire to be an accident “caused due to short circuits in the factor godown on the ground floor and factory owners and their employees were responsible for not taking precautionary measures which are necessary for preventing loss of lives and property in any such accidental incidents”.
Based on these findings, SIP built a case against factory owners and their staff.
The factory owner Abdul Aziz Bhaila along with his two sons Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, a general manager, and four gatekeepers were charge-sheeted for their alleged negligence.
JIT Formed In 2015
In February 2015, the National Crisis Management Cell constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to re-investigate the Baldia Town factory fire.
The committee comprised 7 members with representatives from different state institutes. The committee was asked to submit their findings within a month.
JIT Report Findings
The joint investigation team (JIT) formed to re-investigate the Baldia town factory fire had declared the incident an act of terrorism.
The fire was started when the owners of Ali Enterprise (Baldia factory) refused to Rs. 200 million as extortion money, the report found out.
The JIT after holding six sessions in the factory, carefully examining the ruins, and collecting accounts of multiple eyewitnesses including the employees of the factory, nullified the previous investigations and concluded that the fire wasn’t an accident but a deliberate act of terrorism.
According to the report of JIT, the fire was unnatural and had multiple origins simultaneously as per forensic reports.
The JIT, to reach the final conclusion, also took into account the recommendations and findings of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency and International Centre for Chemical and Biological Science, University of Karachi.
Both these reports also support JIT’s findings.
The report also included the testimony of accused Rizwan Qureshi in which he revealed that Hammad Siddique, an MQM party high official and in charge of the Karachi Tanzeemi Committee (KTC), demanded an amount of Rs. 200 million from the owner of Ali Enterprise through his frontman Rehman Bhola in 2012.
However, the factory owner went to Asghar Baig, MQM sector in-charge of Baldia town at that time, and made him aware of the demand. Asghar Baig along with his brother Majid Baid arranged a meeting between the factory owners and Hammad Siddique.
The meeting was also attended by Farooq Saleem, joint in-charge of KTC. The factory owners refused to pay the extortion money and exchanged harsh words with MQM leaders.
After this first meeting, Siddique suspended Baig and appointed Bhola as the new sector in-charge.
Bhola once again asked factory owners to pay extortion money and upon their refusal “threw chemical substance which created fire in the factory on 11 September 2012.
While concluding the report, JIT has recommended withdrawing the previous FIRs and filing of new FIRs under terrorism provisions and include the names of Rehman Bhola, Hamad Siddiqui, Zubair Charya, Umar Hassan Qadari, Dr. Abdul Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri, Iqbal Abid Khanum, and four unknown persons in the new FIR.
On the issue of the owner’s negligence, the JIT concluded that no factory doors were permanently shut down.