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KARACHI: An antiterrorism court indicted on Wednesday Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui and nine others in the Baldia factory fire case.

Over 250 workers were burnt alive when a multistorey garment factory was set on fire in Baldia Town in September 2012.

The judge of ATC-VII, who is conducting trial at the judicial complex inside the central prison, read out the charges against MQM MPA Rauf Siddiqui, then MQM sector-in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Charya, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan, Hyderabad-based businessman Umar Hasan Qadri, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and the ill-fated industrial unit’s four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad.

Prosecution told to produce its witnesses for evidence on Feb 17

However, they pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the charges. The court directed the prosecution to produce its witnesses for evidence on Feb 17.

The jail authorities produced Abdul Rehman and Zubair before the court during Wednesday’s proceedings while the other accused persons are on bail.

The then chief of the MQM organising committee, Hammad Siddiqui, and businessman Ali Hasan Qadri have been declared proclaimed offenders in the case.

Initially, owner of the factory Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, a general manager and four gatekeepers were charge-sheeted for their alleged negligence.

However, the case took a new turn in February 2015 when 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 ‘protection money’. Subsequently, the reinvestigation of the case was ordered in March 2015 through a JIT.

In March 2016, the police through a progress report informed the court that the factory fire was a planned terrorist act and the JIT had recommended that a new case be registered under the antiterrorism law and proposed Hammad Siddiqui, his alleged frontman and then Baldia Town sector-in-charge Abdul Rehman, businessmen brothers Ali Hasan Qadri and Umer Hasan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar, Ms Khanum, Zubair alias Charya and others as accused in it.

However, after a lengthy reinvestigation, police filed a supplementary investigation report in August 2016 in which they only charge-sheeted Hammad Siddi­qui, Abdul Rehman and their three to four unknown accomplices and did not send the 13 other suspects, including those proposed by the JIT, for trial.

But the court had put all discharged men in the list of the accused by observing that the owners/manager had ordered the closure of the gates while others abetted the crime one way or another by extorting money on the pretext of distributing it among the victims’ families.

Later, the court partly recalled its order regarding the inclusion of the owners as accused as the prosecution said they were the key witnesses in the case.

In December 2016, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola was brought back after his arrest in Bangkok through Interpol, and he recorded his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate. In April 2017, police filed a supplementary charge sheet against Abdul Rehman.

According to the supplementary charge sheet, Abdul Rehman during interrogation as well as in his confessional statement before a magistrate disclosed that he had directed detained accused Zubair alias Charya, and others to set the factory ablaze on the instruction of Hammad Siddiqui as the factory owners had refused to pay the demanded protection money and ‘partnership’ [in the factory].

He also alleged that after the incident Rauf Siddiqui got a case registered against the owners of the industrial unit and then he said that he came to know that Rauf and Hammad received Rs40 million to Rs50 million from the owners to tone down the case against them. However, police had declared the MPA innocent in the supplementary report.

Thereafter, special public prosecutor Sajid Mahboob Shaikh filed an application and argued that police had not charge-sheeted the lawmaker, but still sufficient evidence was available to connect him with the offence.

Last month, the court allowed the application and made Mr Siddiqui an accused in the case.

The Qadri brothers, Dr Sattar Khan and Ms Khanum have been charged with using the money allegedly extorted from the factory owners on the pretext of compensation for the victims’ families while the gatekeepers have been booked for allegedly closing the exit points.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018