September 25th, 2020

By Shaukat Korai


KARACHI

After a Karachi court finally gave a ruling in the arson case of the Ali Enterprises Garment Factory Better known as the Baldia Town case, after a delay of almost eight years, the relatives of the victims have rejected the verdict calling it ‘insufficient’.

Around 264 people, mainly factory workers, were burnt alive as a result of the arson attack on the garment factory.

In its detailed judgment released on Tuesday, September 22, a Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced two people to death and awarded life imprisonment to four others.

Initially, the case of the incident was filed against the owners of the factory. Later on, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) working under the home department, released a report in which the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was implicated in the case. The JIT report names MQM leader Hammad Siddiqui as the mastermind of the incident. To this day, Hammad remains at large.

Out of the 264 people who burned to death, on September the 11th 2012, 240 people have been identified while 23 have not even been identified yet.

Relatives of the victims staged a protest at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday against the court’s verdict.

Israr Ahmed, the father of Zeeshan Ahmed, a 24-year-old who died in the incident, expressed reservations over the court’s decision.

According to him, MQM is the prime culprit behind the incident because it was the ruling party at the time. The party is in the power corridors even today. “All I am asking for is justice for my son,” he states.

Family members claim that the courts should go after the ‘real culprits’ and give them exemplary punishment.

“What kind of judgment is this? So many people – 264 to be exact – were burned to death and only two lowly handymen were convicted. We want the courts to convict the people who are actually responsible – those who gave the order,” says the father of a worker killed in the Baldia fire.

“The main masterminds should be caught and burnt the same way our children were burnt,” cries an angry woman.

“It took the courts eight years to come up with this judgment. It would have been better if they have not given out judgment at all,” asserts another protestor.

Karamat Ali, head of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER), pointed out at a complete lack of safety measures in the factory. He states that the government should have been aware of the conditions in which the workers were being forced to work according to him the factory should not have been allowed to operate at all. He demands action against the owners.

“I think it was the moral responsibility of the owners to inform the workers if they had received such threats. They should have been told about the risks. Moreover, the owners could have increased security at the factory. But no such provisions were made,” says Karamat.

Nasir Mansoor, General Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) explains that he rejects the court’s judgment because the owners of the factory were absolved of any responsibility. Moreover, the families of the victims were not involved in the legal proceedings.

“The safety situation in the factory was very poor. There were no fire exits. Workers were provided with safety equipment. The factor was not even registered. I think the owners should be held liable,” says Nasir.

Barrister Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, a former judge of the Sindh High Court, blames the prosecution for the seemingly weak judgment.

“The court cannot be blamed. The court cannot just make up a decision, it has to rely on the police investigation and the evidence presented by the prosecution. I think the prosecution and the police did not do their jobs properly”, says Ahmed.

While Sajid Mehboob, the prosecutor in the case, says that it was the responsibility of the police to arrest the accused.

“The joint investigation team found that the owners were victims themselves and were not criminally liable”, says Sajid.

 

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