KARACHI: An important development took place in the proceedings in the Baldia factory fire case on Tuesday. A witness, who had not appeared before the court earlier due to threats to his life, came forward and recorded his statement. The special anti-terrorism court hearing the case issued notices to the judicial magistrate after the counsels for the accused completed cross-examination of the witness.
Special public prosecutor Sajid Mehbood Sheikh presented the eyewitness before the court. The witness, whose name was not disclosed due to security concerns, recorded his statement before the court and identified accused Zubair Charya.
The witness stated that he was present at the Baldia factory on the day of the incident. He said that Zubair Charya and his accomplices came to the warehouse on that day. They smoked hashish outside the warehouse bathroom after which Zubair Charya threw packets of chemicals on the clothes in the warehouse which immediately caught fire, said the eyewitness. Zubair Charya then did the same at the second floor, he added.
According to the witness, Charya was smiling as the fire broke out. “I can identify the accomplices of Zubair Charya,” claimed the witness.
Public Prosecutor Sheikh said that accused Abdur Rehman alias Bhola had confessed in his statement that he had given the chemicals to Zubair Charya, to put the factory on fire.
The counsels for Charya and Abdur Rehman cross-questioned the witness over his statement. They asked why the witness was recording his statement after such a long time.
“I had threats to my life which is why I went to Punjab,” replied the witness. “The joint investigation team (JIT) summoned me and took responsibility for my security which is why I came and recorded the statement,” he added.
The eyewitness also recorded the statement under Section 164 before the judicial magistrate.
The court issued notice to the judicial magistrate for his statement on the next hearing, and adjourned the hearing.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, prosecutor Sheikh said that accused Rehman had confessed that he was also present near the factory at the time of the fire and had witnessed the entire incident with his eyes.
Over 250 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey garment factory building was set on fire in Baldia Town in September, 2012.
In February last year, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) had finally indicted Muttahida Qaumi Movement – Pakistan (MQM-P) lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui, former sector incharge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Charya, Abdul Sattar Khan, Umar Hassan Kadri, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and four gatekeepers of the ill-fated industrial unit – Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad – for their alleged involvement in the tragic incident.
According to the prosecution, Bhola, during interrogation as well as before a magistrate, had disclosed that he along with Zubair and others had set fire to the factory on the instructions of then chief of the MQM organising committee Hammad Siddiqui because the factory owners had refused to pay the demanded ‘protection money’.
In February, earlier this year, another eyewitness had identified Zubair Charya as having been present at the factory when it was set on fire. People were burning in the fire inside the factory and Zubair Charya was smiling, the eyewitness had told the court.
Twists and turns
Initially, the police had charge-sheeted the owners – Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad and Shahid – as well as some employees of the ill-fated industrial unit in the tragic incident. However, reinvestigation of the case was ordered in March 2016 through a joint investigation team after an earlier JIT report, which was submitted in the Sindh High Court in February 2015, revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay ‘protection money’.