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ATC hands death sentence to two accused in Baldia factory fire case; MQM’s Rauf Siddiqui acquitted

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi on Tuesday sentenced two men — Zubair aka Charya and Rehman aka Bhola — to death in the high-profile Baldia factory fire case.

The court acquitted MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui, then-provincial minister for commerce and industries, according to his lawyer Abid Zaman.

Three others — Iqbal Adeel Khanum, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan and Ali Hasan Qadri — were also acquitted by the court. The factory’s four gatekeepers were also convicted for facilitation.

Over 260 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey Ali Enterprises garment factory was set on fire in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012 in what became the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history.

Analyse: 8 years on, have we learnt anything from the Baldia fire which claimed more than 260 lives?

At the previous hearing on September 17, the court had adjourned the hearing for today after parties argued on the important point of award of compensation to legal heirs of the victims, in case of conviction of the accused persons.

Ten accused — Rauf Siddiqui, MQM’s then Baldia Town sector in-charge Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola; Zubair, alias Charya; Hyderabad-based businessmen Dr Abdul Sattar Khan; Umar Hasan Qadri; Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and the industrial unit’s four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad — were charged with setting ablaze the factory.

They allegedly acted on the instructions of the then chief of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui, over the non-payment of Rs250 million ‘protection money’ by the factory’s owners.

Hammad and businessman Ali Hasan Qadri were declared proclaimed offenders in the case as both were reportedly in hiding abroad.

400 witnesses testify

The prosecution had rested its case after recording material evidence including forensic, ballistic and chemical analysis reports and testimonies of 400 witnesses against the accused. The prosecution has since given up 369 witnesses for being “unnecessary”.

According to prosecutor Sajid Mehboob Shaikh, a total of 264 people perished in the fire that engulfed the multi-storey building of the readymade garments manufacturing unit. The number included bodies of 17 people who were charred beyond recognition.

All the accused persons have denied the allegations levelled by the prosecution, which is led by the Rangers instead of police.

More to follow.

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