Factory’s gatekeepers also found guilty of facilitation, while four other suspects have been acquitted over lack of evidence
An Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi on Tuesday ruled that the Baldia factory fire was arson and sentenced two men to death for their involvement in the tragedy that resulted in the deaths of more than 260 workers in 2012.
The court sentenced Zubair alias Charya and Rehman alias Bhola to death in the case, while acquitting Rauf Siddiqui, Iqbal Adeel Khanum, Dr. Abdul Sattar Khan and Ali Hasan Qadri over lack of evidence. It found the factory’s four gatekeepers—Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad—guilty of facilitation and sentenced them to life imprisonment, but did not find them directly complicit in the blaze.
The convicts were previously affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is currently part of the ruling government coalition, as was Siddiqui, provincial minister for commerce and industries at the time of the fire.
According to the court’s ruling, Zubair and Rehman set the building on fire because of non-payment of extortion money by the garment factory’s owners.
Over 260 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey Ali Enterprises garment factory was set on fire in Baldia Town on Sept. 11, 2012 in what is the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history. The blaze sent shockwaves through the country, with calls for safety reforms and strict punishments for the culprits after survivors told stories of people trapped in the factory because the building’s doors were locked and there was no fire exit.
In total, 10 people were initially charged with setting the factory on fire. Investigators alleged they acted on the instructions of then-chief of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui, after the factory’s owners refused to pay Rs. 250 million in “protection” money. Siddiqui, as well as businessman Ali Hasan Qadri, are proclaimed offenders, as both are reportedly in hiding abroad.
The long-pending case has recorded the testimonies of 400 witnesses against the accused, in addition to forensic, ballistic and chemical analysis reports. The government has claimed 264 people died in the fire, including 17 whose bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
Bhola, who has been sentenced to death, was arrested in December 2016 with the help of Interpol while hiding from authorities in Bangkok. He has confessed to his crime before a judicial magistrate.