x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pakistan's fire lapse

A peculiar Pakistani law that allows for "protective bail" needs to be reconsidered, as the investigation of a tragic fire last week makes clear.

The fire that engulfed a garment factory in Karachi last week burnt for hours, with most of the 289 casualties dying from suffocation. CCTV footage reviewed by the police showed the panic of factory workers as the ground floor filled with smoke and the single exit failed to open after the electronic lock jammed.

Tuesday's tragedy is being called Pakistan's worst industrial accident in its 65-year history. For relatives of the victims, the horror and the outrage at the apparent safety lapses are unimaginable. One man whose nephew died in the fire said the factory owners deserved to be burnt to death. Despite the pain, such sentiments have to be resisted, but equally family members - and the nation - must be assured of a fair and thorough investigation.

Because of a peculiarity of Pakistani law, however, that may not happen. The factory owner, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, and his two sons have been granted "protective bail", in effect letting them go before they've even been charged. That raises the possibility that they will abscond.

A Sindh provincial minister, Abdul Rauf Siddiqi, has already resigned, saying he had "no authority to move against the people responsible". Pakistan does not need a witch hunt after this tragedy, but it does need justice. There are too many other factories with locked doors for the law to leave a loophole in this case.