Karachi - An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi yesterday handed death sentence to two MQM workers in high-profile Baldia factory fire case, eight years after the blaze claimed hundreds of lives.

In its 146-page detailed verdict, the court convicted Abdul Rehman aka Bhola and Zubair aka Charya on 11 counts, handing each of the duo death sentences on two counts, life sentences on four counts, prison sentences of 10 years on two counts as well as prison sentences of seven, three and two years on three separate counts.

The factory’s four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad — were convicted for facilitating the carnage, resulting in the deaths of 264 people and injuring 60 others, and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life on two counts, along with a fine of Rs0.2 million on each count. Additionally, they were ordered to pay Rs27,77,353 as Diyat to each of the victims’ families.

However, the court acquitted MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui, then-provincial minister for commerce and industries, and three others — Iqbal Adeel Khanum, Umar Hassan and Dr Abdul Sattar Khan.

According to the verdict, the sentences would run concurrently and the convicts were entitled to Section 382-B (period of detention to be considered while awarding sentence of imprisonment) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

ATC acquits Muttahida leader Rauf Siddiqui

MQM-Pakistan leader Faisal Subzwari in a tweet quoted a spokesperson for his party as saying that the acquittal of Rauf Siddiqui, a member of Rabita Committee, in the case “proves that MQM-Pakistan had nothing to do with this case”.

The spokesperson expressed sympathies with the victims and their relatives for having to wait eight years for the verdict and expressed the hope that the country’s higher courts will ensure complete justice for them.

“[We] make it clear that patronage of any anti-social and law-breaking elements neither was nor will ever be a policy of MQM-Pakistan,” the spokesperson added, according to Subzwari.

Addressing a press conference shortly after the verdict was announced, MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui said that he had resigned from his post when the incident occurred. “People don’t let go of a cleaner’s job [but] I had resigned from my post.”

He added that he was thankful for the decision announced by the court. “To this day, I can still hear the screams of the victim’s families.”

He said that he was unable to forgot the night of the incident, which would come to his mind every time he had to appear in court.

Over 260 workers, including 16 who have yet to be identified, 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.

Ten accused — including Siddiqui; MQM’s then-Baldia Town sector in-charge Rehman; Zubair; Hyderabad-based businessmen Dr Khan; Umar Hasan Qadri; Khanum and the industrial unit’s four gatekeepers — were charged with setting ablaze the factor.

According to a joint investigation team report made public in July, the fire was not an accident rather a “planned sabotage/ terror activity” carried out over non-payment of Rs200 million extortion and partnership money in factory profits.

The report held the then head of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee Hammad Siddiqui and Rehman Bhola responsible for the incident. The JIT was critical of the initial police investigation into the case and observed that the police dealt it in an unprofessional manner and in a way to benefit “the offenders” instead of the victims for some “motives and gains”. It said the “fear and favour” were dominating factors in initial investigation, which affected the police performance “length and breadth”.