KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday dismissed an appeal of one of the accused in the Baldia factory fire case against the trial court’s order for allowing the prosecution to record statements of the Dubai-based owners through a video link due to security concerns.
Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, through his lawyer, moved a criminal revision appeal in the SHC challenging the order of an antiterrorism court which has recently allowed an application of the prosecution for recording statements of the factory’s owners through videoconferencing.
After hearing arguments from both sides, a two-judge bench headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar dismissed the appeal and observed that there was no harm in recording evidence through a video link in high-profile cases, adding that it was necessary to provide protection to witnesses in such cases.
The lawyer for the appellant submitted that initially the owners of the factory were nominated as accused in the case, but later they had become witnesses.
He contended that previously their evidence was not recorded by the police.
The counsel further maintained that since the law and order situation in the provincial metropolis had improved, the factory owners should appear before the trial court and record their evidence.
The special public prosecutor, Sajid Shaikh, submitted that factory owners, Arshad Bhaila and his brother Shahid Bhaila, were willing to record their evidence through a video link and argued that they fled the country in 2014 due to security concerns and their return might put their lives at stake.
He further submitted that it was a very sensitive and high-profile case as 259 people were killed in the industrial unit when it was allegedly torched over non-payment of protection money.
The investigating officer had recorded the statements of Bhaila brothers as required under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code at the Pakistani consulate in Dubai, he added.
Mr Shaikh maintained that out of 768 prosecution witnesses, 364 had so far been examined and 304 other witnesses had been given up.
He said he would rest his side after examining around five more prosecution witnesses including Bhaila brothers, adding that everything was set to record the statements of both brothers through a video link from the Pakistan consulate in Dubai, but the accused filed an appeal against the trial court order.
An assistant attorney general argued that the appeal was liable to be dismissed since there were precedents set by the apex court of recording testimonies through video link including a case against Hussain Nawaz.
In July, the ATC had allowed an application of the prosecution for recording statements of Bhaila brothers through a video link after the prosecutor argued that they had fled abroad and were unable to travel to Pakistan for recording their statements in the case due to threats and danger to their lives. Over 250 workers were burnt alive when a multistorey garment factory building was set on fire in Baldia Town in September 2012.
Then Muttahida Qaumi Movement 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 industrial unit’s four gatekeepers are facing the trial. The then chief of the MQM organising committee, Hammad Siddiqui, and others have been declared proclaimed offenders.
Initially, the owners of the factory, a general manager and four gatekeepers were charge sheeted for their alleged negligence.
However, the case took a turn in February 2015 when Rangers submitted a joint investigation team’s report in the Sindh High Court, which revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners did not pay ‘protection money’. Subsequently, the reinvestigation of the case was ordered in March 2015 through a JIT and after a lengthy reinvestigation, the supplementary investigation report was filed in August 2016.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019