DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A court in Bangladesh's capital indicted the two owners of a garment factory and 11 others on homicide charges Thursday for a 2012 fire that killed 112 workers.
It is the first time that factory owners have been prosecuted in Bangladesh's lucrative garment industry, the world's second largest after China.
Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter, the owners of Tazreen Fashions Ltd., pleaded not guilty to the charges. The factory produced clothing for large international retailers including Wal-Mart.
Prosecutor Mizanur Rahman said the judge also indicted 11 factory managers and security guards. Eight of the accused were present in court while five remain at large and will be tried in absentia. The trial will begin Oct. 1, Rahman said.
Prosecutors argued that the owners and the others were responsible for the deaths of the workers because the factory outside Dhaka had no emergency exits and the main exit was locked when the fire broke out in November 2012. The defendants' lawyer argued that the fire was an accident and that they should not be indicted.
"Finally, the judge decided to indict them all," Rahman said by phone.
The charges carry penalties ranging from seven years to life in prison.
According to court documents, investigators found that when the fire broke out, managers and security guards told workers it was part of a regular drill, delaying their possible escape. Workers found the gates locked from the outside as the fire engulfed the sprawling building, according to the investigation.
Police filed homicide charges last Dec. 22 against the 13 defendants.
The owners surrendered and were initially denied bail, but later were released from custody after promising to cooperate with the legal proceedings. They argued that they needed to be free to run their other garment factories properly to provide salaries and other benefits to the workers.
Bangladesh earns about $25 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.
The fire is one of several disasters that exposed harsh and unsafe working conditions in the garment industry. A factory collapse in April 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers, triggering demands at home and abroad for safer conditions.
This story has been corrected to show that five of the accused remain at large, not three.