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KARACHI: An antiterrorism court on Tuesday allowed the prosecution’s request to summon more witnesses, including forensic and technical experts, to record their testimonies in a case pertaining to the Baldia factory fire.

Nine accused — including Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui, Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola; and M. Zubair, alias Chariya — have been charged with setting ablaze a garments factory in Baldia Town with the help of its four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad — on Sept 11, 2012.

On Tuesday, the judge of the ATC-VI took up an application moved by Rangers special public prosecutor Sajid Mehboob Shaikh pleading to the court to summon the 47 remaining witnesses to testify before the court in the case.

Factory manager says MQM activist Bhola insisted on payment of Rs250m, not less, as extortion money

The prosecutor said that 377 witnesses had been examined by the court and the remaining 47 also be summoned since their evidence was important and relevant to the case.

According to the prosecutor, the remaining witnesses, including experts from the Punjab Forensic Science Agency, the faculty of science of the University of Karachi, an electrical inspector, and the head of a joint investigation team constituted in the case, should testify.

After hearing arguments from the defence counsel, the judge allowed the application and summoned more witnesses to record their statements on April 11.

Witnesses record statements

The judge, who is conducting trial in the judicial complex inside the central prison, also recorded statements of two prosecution witnesses.

The first witness testified that he worked as a manager at Ali Enterprises where in July 2012 the then in-charge of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Baldia sector Abdul Rehman, alias Rehman Bhola, and Majid Baig allegedly met its owners.

He said the factory owners later told him that Bhola had demanded Rs250 million extortion and also a share in the business allegedly on behalf of the then head of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee Hammad Siddiqui.

The witnesses said that since he used to handle the matters related to the MQM, as most of the factory workers were the party’s activists, the owners asked him to settle the matter with Bhola and offered to pay Rs10m as extortion.

The witness said that he met Bhola and made the factory owner’s offer, who said that Hammad Siddiqui had tasked him to collect Rs250m extortion from the factory owners. Bhola allegedly said that he would not accept an amount less than Rs250m otherwise the factory owners would face the consequences, the witness added.

Another witness, a judicial magistrate, also recorded his statement before the court.

The witness deposed that he was posted as a judicial magistrate and had recorded the statement of two prosecution witnesses in the present case — the factory manager and another witness Majid Baig — under sections 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code on a request of the investigating officer of the case.

Later, the defence counsel for accused Rehman Bhola, Zubair Chariya and others cross-examined both the witnesses.

Advocate M. Tamaz Khan for Bhola contended that there were glaring contradictions in the statements of the factory manager recorded under sections 161 and then 164 of the CrPC.

He further contended that the testimony of the factory manager could not be considered under the law since he himself was arrested in the present case and had remained in jail for months until he was released on bail. He said the statement of the judicial magistrate was being recorded for a second time in the case, while he had not even mentioned the number of the FIR and other basic information related to the case in his statement.

The counsel further argued that the testimony of another prosecution witness, Majid Baig, could also not be used as evidence because he himself had admitted that he used to collect extortion and fitra amount from the factory owners on behalf of the then Baldia sector’s in-charge, who was his brother. He added that Baig himself was arrested in the present case and later released under Section 169 of the CrPC.

According to the prosecution, the suspects acted on the instruction of Hammad Siddiqui after the factory owners did not pay protection money. A red warrant has already been issued for arrest of Mr Siddiqui.

Initially, the police had released Zubair Chariya citing lack of evidence against him. However, he was once again detained after the key suspect, Rehman Bhola, in his statement recorded before a joint investigation team implicated him, alleging that he carried out the task of setting ablaze the factory with the help of Chariya and some others.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2019