Two of the three owners of the ill-fated garment factory, where 258 people were burnt alive on September 11, have been sent to jail as their police custody ran out.
The judicial magistrate VI, Muhammad Afzal Roshan, turned down the police’s request to grant them more time to question Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila. The businessmen surrendered in court after their request for bail was dismissed by a district and sessions court. The police were, however, allowed to investigate the suspects inside prison.
The two brothers have been sent to jail until October 16. The police had requested the court for 14 days to interrogate them in order to complete the list of charges, but the Bhaila lawyer, Amir Mansoob Qureshi, argued that the police have already prepared an interim charge sheet and his clients have been held responsible for the fire.
On September 14, the owners of Ali Enterprises were granted protective bail by the Larkana circuit bench of the Sindh High Court. After this bail expired, they obtained bail to prevent arrest from the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court on September 21. Then, again, on October 1, the Bhaila family was granted interim bail until October 6 from a court in Karachi.
The factory owners, among others, have been booked in a case (343/12) registered at the SITE-B police station under sections 302 (for causing death), 322 (unintentional death), 435 (mischief by fire or explosives), 436 (mischief by fire or explosives with the intention to destroy a house), 337 (causing hurt) and 34 (common intent) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
On Saturday, additional district judge (West), Abdullah Channa, turned down the request to confirm interim bails granted to Arshad and Shahid. However, the protective bail granted to their aging father, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, was confirmed on the basis of his deteriorating health.
Filing his report, SSP (Investigations) Sultan Saqib submitted that according to witnesses, three doors of the factory were closed permanently while the fourth one was also closed on the instructions of the factory owners after the fire broke out. “This amounts to criminal negligence even though their intentions were not to kill the workers,” he said. “Most deaths were caused by the closure of the exits.”
The factory owners had ordered their manager, Mansoor Ahmed, to shut the doors, the victims’ lawyer, Faisal Siddiqui, told the court.
Amir Mansoob Qureshi insisted, however, that the factory owners were cooperating with the authorities in the investigation, and were also ready to compensate the bereaved families. The judge remarked that the offer could be considered under Islamic law. Islamic jurisprudence allows blood money to be paid by the accused to a victim’s families as compensation.
Another crucial aspect relating to the tragedy came up at the hearing. Around 40 unidentified bodies are being kept at the morgue as DNA tests are awaited, complicating an already fraught case.
with additional input from agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2012.