Lawsuit opens in Germany against textile company over deadly Baldia factory fire

Updated November 29, 2018

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Saeeda Khatoon, second from right, mother of Aijaz Ahmed, who was killed in a factory fire, and supporters hold a poster outside the court in Dortmund, western Germany. —AP
Saeeda Khatoon, second from right, mother of Aijaz Ahmed, who was killed in a factory fire, and supporters hold a poster outside the court in Dortmund, western Germany. —AP
Saeeda Khatoon pictured in the courtroom during the hearing. — AP
Saeeda Khatoon pictured in the courtroom during the hearing. — AP

A German court is hearing a civil suit against a discount German textile company whose clothes were produced in a factory in Pakistan that burned to the ground in 2012, killing more than 250 people.

The four plaintiffs, a survivor and three relatives, are seeking €30,000 each in damages from the KiK clothing company, the dpa news agency reported on Thursday.

They maintain that as one of the main buyers, KiK is partially responsible for the conditions at the factory. KiK rejects the charges and says the case should also be considered past the statute of limitations for a suit.

People gather in the factory following the fire in which at least 289 people died. —AFP/File
People gather in the factory following the fire in which at least 289 people died. —AFP/File

In the devastating blaze in Karachi, many died suffocated in the basement when it filled with smoke and the main exit door was locked.

Know more: Desperate jump for life

More than 500 people, including 50 women, in the evening shift of the garment factory, named Ali Enterprises, were trapped inside the building when the fire erupted at around 6.30pm on September 11, 2012.

A senior official said the fire started from the basement and travelled to three other floors of the building. He said there were several emergency exits inside the building but all of them were locked permanently.

Nearly 100 rescue personnel, including firefighters, battled for more than 24 hours only to retrieve the charred bodies of at least 258 people.

While there is some movement in the case, the victims’ families wait for justice still appears to be a long one as the judicial process continues.

The nine accused, including Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker and then provincial minister for commerce and industries Rauf Siddiqui, then MQM sector in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Chariya, were charged with allegedly setting ablaze the ill-fated industrial unit with the help of its four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad.

Rescue officials work inside the charred factory. —AFP/File
Rescue officials work inside the charred factory. —AFP/File

Bhola confessed on December 22, 2016 before a judicial magistrate to his involvement in the Baldia factory fire case, claiming he acted on instructions from his political masters. According to the suspect, he, along with an accomplice, set the factory ablaze at the behest of the then MQM Tanzeemi Committee chief Hammad Siddiqui because the factory owners had refused to pay the protection money demanded.

Hyderabad-based business persons Umar Hasan Qadri, Ali Hasan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan, Ms Iqbal Adeeb Khanum have also been booked for purportedly using the money allegedly extorted from the factory owners on the pretext of compensation for victims.

The ATC-VII judge, who is conducting the trial at the judicial complex inside the central prison, had framed the charges of terrorism, extortion, and arson on the accused persons on Feb 14. But, they pleaded not guilty and opted to contest.

Currently, Bhola and Chariya are incarcerated in jail while seven other accused persons, including Rauf Siddiqui, the Hyderabad-based business persons and the four gatekeepers of Ali Enterprises are on bail.

Hammad Siddiqui and Ali Hasan Qadri have been declared proclaimed offenders in the case as they are in Dubai and America respectively.

Meanwhile, Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (Sessi), working under the Sindh labour ministry on March 22 this year initiated the process of disbursement of pension to the legal heirs of the victims after signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The funds amount to US $5.15 million, including a margin of $0.25m, provided by KiK Textilien after an agreement with Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in 2012 under which KiK had initially paid $1m for emergency relief during the same year.