Bangladesh police arrested eight people on Saturday on charges of murder in connection with a factory fire that…, many of whom were locked inside by an illegally locked door, a senior police official said.
The fire started Thursday evening at the five-storey Hashem Foods Ltd factory. in Rupganj, just outside the capital Dhaka, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police discovered piles of bodies Friday afternoon after the fire was extinguished.
“We have arrested them for murder,” Jayedul Alam, Narayanganj District Police Commissioner, told The Associated Press by phone. “They are now in our custody.”
Interior Minister Asaduzzman Khan said the detainees included the director of the Sajeeb Group, which owns the factory.
The minister gave no further details, but said those responsible will be punished.
“It’s a murder,” Khan told reporters when he visited the factory site on Saturday.
On Saturday evening, a court in Dhaka allowed all eight suspects to remain in police custody for four days for questioning.
Bangladesh has a tragic history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped. Major international brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, are under heavy pressure to improve factory conditions.
In similar cases, factory owners have been charged with wrongful death for negligence, and it is illegal for a factory to close off the exits if workers are inside during production hours.
The main exit of the factory that caught fire on Thursday was locked from the inside, a fire and civil defense official said, and many of those who died were trapped.
One of them was 23-year-old Rima Akter, who made desperate calls to her family when the fire engulfed the factory.
On Saturday, her mother and other relatives struggled to identify the young woman’s remains at the mortuary of Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
“We have checked 36 body bags, but it is very difficult to identify her,” said her brother-in-law Arafat Rahman.
Her mother, Josna Begum, wept as officials tried to reassure several families waiting outside the hospital that the bodies of their loved ones would be returned once DNA tests were completed. Forensic experts worked to identify the dead by taking DNA samples from the victims’ relatives, and by late Saturday afternoon samples had been collected from 33 of the dead, hospital officials said.
“My daughter was working to pay for her college education. She took online classes and exams. I don’t have anyone else in the world…what am I supposed to do now?” said Josna Begum.
Prova Barman, the father of Kompa Rani Barman, who died in the fire, spoke to reporters outside the factory on Saturday.
“My daughter’s body was found here. She was on the third floor. The supervisor locked up many girls there, including my daughter, during the fire. Many girls were unable to escape after the gate was locked,” he said.
Other workers jumped from the top floors and at least 26 were injured, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported Friday.
The factory is a subsidiary of Sajeeb Group, a Bangladeshi juice production company under Lahore-based Shezan International Ltd in Pakistan. According to the group’s website, the company exports its products to a number of countries, including Australia, the United States, Malaysia and Singapore. , India, Bhutan, Nepal and countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Despite the South Asian country’s rapid economic growth, corruption and lax enforcement have resulted in many deaths over the years.
In 2012, about 117 workers died trapped behind closed doors at a garment factory in Dhaka.
The following year, more than 1,100 people were killed when a building containing five garment factories collapsed, becoming the country’s worst industrial disaster.
Investigators initially said those charged with wrongdoing would face culpable homicide, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. They later changed the charges to murder due to the gravity of the disaster.
However, powerful factory owners often take advantage of the slow pace of the justice system, dragging the process on for years. The murder cases in the 2013 factory collapse are still ongoing.
The tragedy did lead to stricter safety regulations for the clothing industry, but many other sectors do not adhere to safety standards and disasters continue.
In February 2019, a fire tore through a 400-year-old area filled with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka, killing at least 67 people.