Tazreen fire: Witnesses go out of sight slowing trial

State counsels, who have produced only seven witnesses since the filing of the charges two years back, have said in defence that most of the witnesses, who are garment workers, are no longer living at the mailing addresses available to police.

At least 111 people died and more than 104 were injured in the fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital on Nov 24, 2012. A total 984 workers were inside the factory when the fire broke out.

In December 2013, police submitted a charge-sheet in the case over the incident, holding 13 people responsible for the tragedy. The building with a flawed design lacked a fire exit and security guards locked the collapsible gate when workers tried to get out of the building, as per the charges.

The accused had been charged with manslaughter and culpable negligence under the Bangladesh Penal Code.

“I was working on the second floor. Authorities ordered us to continue work even after the fire alarm rang. We rushed downstairs only to find the front gate closed,” said Sabita Rani, who suffered injuries in the tragedy, at the National Press Club on Thursday.

Tazreen’s Managing Director Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Aktar, chairperson of the group, are prime accused in the case. Others are engineer Mahbub Morshed, factory manager Abdur Razzak, quality manager Shahiduzzaman Dulal, production manager Mobarak Hossain Manju, administrative officer Dulal, store manager Hamidul Islam Lavlu, security superviser Al Amin, security guard Rana alias Anarul, store-in-charge Al Amin and loader Shamim Mia and security chief Anisur Rahman.

Among them, Mobarak Hossain Manju and Shahiduzzaman Dulal are absconding.

A Dhaka court indicted the 13 in 2015.

The State could not produce any witness on Nov 8 when Dhaka First Additional District and Sessions Judge’s Court was due to hear the case.

Judge SM Saiful Islam rebuked Additional Public Prosecutor Kazi Shahana on Apr 2 as she failed to produce witnesses.

The seven people who have testified in the case are Ashulia police SI Khairul Islam, recording officer and ASI Shahjalal Mia, Mahe Alam, who worked as a swing operator at Tazreen, quality operator Rakib Hasan, operator Laili Begum and Ashulia residents Md Sona Mia and Sabur Mondal.

The court has issued warrants at the addresses of witnesses listed from No. 16 to 21 to bring them in for the next hearing on Jan 11, 2018. But they are no longer living at the same addresses, according to court staff.

“Most of witnesses do not have any permanent address. Therefore, we cannot proceed with the case,” said Additional Public Prosecutor Kazi Shahana.

Case supervisor Shahidul Islam Sabuj blamed the State over negligence in duties.

“They are delaying the trial to make people oblivious of the incident,” said Sabuj, a labour leader who is overseeing the case on behalf of garment workers.

ATM Golam Gaus, lawyer of the two prime suspects, said: “We never asked the court for time to question the witnesses after recording their statements. We do not have anything to do, if the State is not being able to produce witnesses.”

“Had this case of massive public interest been resolved, fire incidents occurring due to owners’ negligence and mismanagement would have gone down,” Sheikh Mohammad Zakir Hossain, president of Bangladesh Progressive Garments Workers Federation, told bdnews24.com.