The prime minister had not ordered anyone to withdraw the case against the owners of the Baldia garment factory, said his press secretary, Shafqat Jalil, on Thursday. He had instead asked the Sindh chief secretary to re-investigate if they were falsely implicated.
This statement comes amid reports that Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had ordered for the all-important murder charge to be dropped against the owners of the factory where at least 259 people had perished in an inferno on September 11 last year. The trial is set to begin four months on.
Jalil told The Express Tribune that the PM’s directives were given much earlier, on December 29, at an event organised by the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Earlier, Prime Minister Ashraf had no idea under which section the case was registered against the owners of Ali Enterprises,” Jalil said, adding that the premier was “shocked” when the business community told him that the case was registered under Section 302 (premeditated murder). However, the FIR was registered three months earlier, on September 11.
The press secretary explained, that after being briefed on the issue, the premier said: “I have no authority to withdraw the charges levelled against them, but [I] will ask the Sindh chief secretary and police to reinvestigate the legal aspect of the case, before referring it to the court for a further decision.”
“The government would not tolerate anyone being harassed,” Jalil quoted the PM as saying. He said that it was never discussed that all charges against the owners ought to be withdrawn, but that the charge of murder must be re-investigated. “I repeat again, neither did the PM withdraw the case nor did he order it. I believe that case has not been withdrawn and it is before the court,” he said.
Clean Clothes Campaign pledges to fight against PM’s decision
An alliance dedicated to improving working conditions in the global garment industry has termed the prime minister’s orders to withdraw murder charges against the owners of Ali Enterprises “illegal, immoral and unjust”. The Clean Clothes Campaign pledged on Thursday to fight it. “It is the constitutional responsibility of the state to protect and safeguard the right to life of all citizens on an equal footing,” said the campaign’s, Samantha Maher, while expressing solidarity with the victims at a news conference.
Maher said that labour organisations will fight against the decision, both legally and through peaceful protests in Pakistan, whereas the campaign will take up the issue on an international footing. The Clean Clothes Campaign is a network of 15 European organisations. “The government should have actively followed the case in the courts, and provided protection to the victims and witnesses to ensure justice for the workers of the burnt factory,” Maher added.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s Karamat Ali said that it was “shocking that rather than fulfilling its constitutional obligation to protect its citizens and stand up for them, the government chooses to favour a powerful industrial lobby and has finally withdrawn charges against the owners of Ali Enterprises.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.