Prosecutors said the trial has been stalled due to stay orders issued by the High Court in 2016
Seven years ago, when thousands of workers were working to produce clothes sourced by major international brands, the nine-story Rana Plaza building buckled and collapsed on April 24, 2013.
The worst disaster ever in the Bangladeshi apparel industry left at least 1,136 people dead and more than 2,500 people injured, some of them crippled for life, at Savar, just outside capital Dhaka.
But justice continues to elude the victims as four years have gone by after a court in Dhaka formally charged 41 people with murder, including the building’s owner Sohel Rana. The prosecution is yet to begin witnesses’ depositions.
Prosecutors said the trial has been stalled due to stay orders issued by the High Court in 2016.
After the indictments on July 18 that year, the Dhaka District and Sessions Judge’s Court ordered the plaintiffs and several other witnesses to appear so as to hear their testimonies.
But eight of the accused, including the then Savar mayor Refayet Ullah and councillor Mohammad Ali Khan, moved the High Court to secure a stay order on the trial proceedings.
The High Court later vacated the stay orders issued against the petitions by six of the accused after the public prosecutor wrote to the attorney general’s office seeking its intervention.
However, the stay orders on trying Refayet and Mohammad Ali remain in force.
Deep cracks had appeared in the nine-story building the day before. On the morning of April 24, 2013, workers of the five factories in the building requested not to be sent inside. Managers, however, would not relent.
Sometime around 9am, floors began to collapse and workers started falling. Entire Rana Plaza took less than 90 seconds to collapse.
After the incident, the Savar police started a case citing ‘murder due to negligence’ and later on the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was put in charge of the probe.
In 2015, the CID pressed charges against 42 people in two cases — for murder and building code violations.
Building owner Sohel Rana, his parents and 34 others were charged with causing the death of the workers while four others were charged with helping Rana to flee after the incident.
Rana was arrested after a four-day manhunt, apparently trying to flee across the border to India.
In July the next year, the trial court indicted 41 people in the case and had set September 18 for hearing the testimonies of witnesses, which is yet to kick off.
Allegations have been levelled against the prosecution for not initiating measures to expedite the trial.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday, Public Prosecutor Khondaker Abdul Mannan, however, dismissed those.
“We could not start the trial as the High Court had stayed the proceedings. We have written to the attorney general’s office seeking its intervention on the issue,” he said.
The trial in the second case, over violation of building code, is yet to kick-off as witnesses’ deposition is yet to begin.
On July 18, 2016, the Dhaka Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court indicted 18 people, including Sohel Rana.
Four other defendants, factory owners — Aminul Islam, Anisur Rahman, Bazlus Samad and Mahmudur Rahman, filed motions seeking revision of their indictment orders.
On June 3 the same year, Dhaka Second Additional Sessions Judge Court acquitted Aminul Islam after disposing of his motion.
But the trial is yet to begin as the orders on the revision pleas by the other three were still pending, said Additional Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul.
The defence, however, blames the prosecution for the delay.
“It’s us who want the trial to take off as my client is in jail pending trial. The prosecution is delaying it,” Faruk Ahamed, who represents building owner Sohel Rana, told the Dhaka Tribune.