WASHINGTON: Three members of a Pakistani-American family were sentenced this week to prison terms ranging from five to 12 years, for their roles in keeping a woman from Pakistan in forced labour at their home for more than 12 years.
US federal authorities, who described the case as “modern-day slavery”, said the victim had married into the family.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the US Justice Department said that Zahida Aman, 80, was sentenced to 12 years; Mohammed Rehan Chaudhri, 48, to 10 years; and Mohammad Nauman Chaudhri, 55, to five years in a federal prison in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Additionally, the court in Richmond, Virginia — where the defendants and the victim lived — ordered Aman and Rehan Chaudhri to pay the victim around $250,000 in restitution for back wages and other financial losses the victim incurred because of the defendants’ criminal conduct.
According to court documents, in 2002, the victim married Aman’s son, and the brother of defendants Nauman and Rehan Chaudhri. Thereafter, she lived in their home.
Over the next 12 years, the three defendants forced her to perform domestic services. To coerce that labour, the defendants verbally assaulted and physically abused the victim. The defendants slapped, kicked, and pushed the victim, even beat her with a wooden board, and, on one occasion, hog-tied her hands and feet and dragged her down the stairs in front of her children.
Even though the victim had temporary immigration status in the United States, Aman took her immigration documents. Thereafter, the defendants threatened the victim with deportation, should she not obey their demands.
The defendants also threatened to separate the victim from her children.
Following a seven-day trial in May 2022, the jury convicted all defendants of conspiracy to commit forced labour, convicted two of the defendants of forced labour, and convicted Aman of document servitude.
Jessica D. Aber, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Richmond Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by US District Judge John A. Gibney.
They banished the victim from the main part of the house to a basement to hide their conduct, limiting her access to food and basic human interactions and further separating her from her children, the prosecutor said.
Their conduct made the victim so desperate that she tried to take her own life twice. The victim lost 60 pounds and clumps of her hair during the 12-year ordeal and was physically unrecognisable to one of her brothers when he first encountered her after he travelled to the US from Pakistan to learn whether she was still alive.
After they were married, her husband told her that if she wanted to please him, she had to make his family and, particularly his mother happy. Within weeks of her arrival, the victim was forced to work all day and was slapped on a regular basis for performing chores incorrectly. On one occasion, she was tied with rope and pushed down the stairs in front of her children as punishment for taking one of the family member’s phones and trying to call her husband who had moved to California, where he lived with a girlfriend.
The defendants eventually moved the victim into the laundry room, where she slept on a mat on the floor.
Salman Chaudhri and the victim had four children from 2003 to 2008, before he moved out. In May 2016, the victim escaped from the family’s home with help from her brother and contacted the local police. The victim currently lives in Connecticut with all four children.
Prosecutors said the worst punishment the defendants inflicted was the wedge they drove between the victim and her children. They convinced the children their mother was a monster, forcing them to spit on her.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023
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