ATC to announce verdict in Baldia factory fire case on Sept 22

KARACHI: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi will announce its verdict in the Baldia factory fire case on 22nd September, more than eight years after the incident.

The court reserved the verdict in the high-profile expected today and will announce it next week. Ten people including then Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) minister Rauf Siddiqui are accused in the incident.

Over 260 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey garment factory was set on fire in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012, making it the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history.

Others accused include MQM’s then Badia Town sector in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Charya, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan, Umar Hasan Qadri, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum, and the company’s four gatekeepers.

The suspect allegedly acted on the instructions of the then chief of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui, over the non-payment of Rs250 million extortion by the factory’s owners. Hammad and businessman Ali Hasan Qadri have been declared proclaimed offenders in the case and have reportedly fled abroad.

The trial was being conducted in the ATC-VII in the judicial complex inside the central prison. The recording of evidence and testimonies of the witnesses, statements of the accused persons and final arguments from the special pubic prosecutor and defence counsel have almost been completed.

The court was given testimonies of 400 witnesses against the accused but around 369 witnesses were rested for being unnecessary.  The accused have denied the allegations levelled by the prosecution.

Factory owner Abdul Aziz Bhaila, his two sons Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, a general manager and four gatekeepers were initially charged for alleged negligence in the inferno.

In February 2015, the Pakistan Rangers Sindh submitted a joint investigation team (JIT) report in the Sindh High Court, which revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay extortion and a reinvestigation was ordered.

In March 2016, the JIT recommended that a new case be registered under the anti-terrorism law. In December that year, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola was extradited after being arrested in Bangkok through Interpol.

During interrogation and his confessional statement before a magistrate, Rehman disclosed that he had instructed Zubair and others to set the factory ablaze on the instructions of Hammad Siddiqui. He also alleged Rauf Siddiqui registered a case against the owners of the factory.

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