Pakistan PM at centre of allegations over dropped Karachi factory fire murder charges

 

The prime minister of Pakistan is again at the centre of controversy – this time over allegations that he instructed officials to drop murder charges against the owner of a Karachi factory where 259 people died in a fire.

Various reports claimed that Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had intervened to have the charges against the owners of the factory changed, with the central charge of murder left out.

In a recent speech before business leaders in Karachi he expressed his concern that the factory owners, brother Arshad and Shahid Bhaila, were facing murder charges, simply because they owned the textile plant.

In the days after the speech, prosecutors announced that they were amending the charges to remove the allegation of intentional murder, a charge that carries with it the potential for the death penalty.

The allegations have caused outrage among the relatives of the low-paid employees who died in the September 11 2012 fire and activists who are campaigning for better and safer conditions for factory workers. Senior members of Mr Ashraf’s own Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)  raised the issue in the parliament. They have suggested the prime minister may have been influenced to act at the request of another minister.

“I am shocked to hear that a prime minister from a party such as PPP has directed [the prosecutors to remove the murder charge] against the factory owners. This is not acceptable, at least to me,” said senior politician Raza Rabbani.

Mr Ashraf’s office could not be contacted today. However, his spokesman, Shafqat Jalil, told the Express Tribune newspaper that the premier had not wanted the charges dropped but he had asked a senior official in the provincial government simply to examine whether the factory owners had been falsely implicated.

“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,” Mr Ashraf said, according to a statement released by his spokesman. “The government would not tolerate anyone being harassed.”

Around 300 people were killed last September when fires swept through factories in Karachi and Lahore within hours of each other. At the time, Francesco D’Ovidio, country director of the International Labour Organisation, a UN body, told The Independent there had not been regular industrial inspections for the last 10 years.

“Many factories are scattered, many are not registered,” he added. "The country has so few industrial inspectors.”

As it was, the factory in Karachi had been certified safe shortly before the fire took place and despite reports that many of its windows were heavily barred, preventing workers from escaping once the flames took hold. Another of other exits were also reportedly blocked.

Among those campaigning to improve safety standards in Pakistani factory is the British group Labour Behind the Label, based in Bristol. Its director Samantha Maher this week descried the effort to withdraw the murder charges against the brothers.

 “It is the constitutional responsibility of the state to protect and safeguard the right to life of all citizens on an equal footing,” she said.

Last week, Pakistan's supreme court ordered that Mr Ashraf be arrested over corruption allegations dating back to his time as a minister in 2010. A federal investigation body responded by saying their was insufficient evidence to pursue the prime minister.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick