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Chinese hostages freed

June 24, 2007

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ISLAMABAD, June 23: The government on Saturday averted a near ‘diplomatic disaster’ between Pakistan and China by securing the release of nine Chinese nationals, six of them women, who were abducted by the Lal Masjid brigade form a massage parlour.

Islamabad remained in the grip of intense diplomatic and security activity, with the Chinese envoy pleading the case of the abducted women and men with highly-embarrassed government functionaries.

According to sources, the authorities had warned to the Lal Masjid administration of an imminent crackdown if the crisis were not resolved `within hours’.

Even though the crisis surrounding the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa issue has been going on for the past many months during which a number of police officials and women were abducted by the mosque students, the Friday event was by far the biggest challenge for the local administration.

There was a clear understanding among top officials the administration that the Lal Masjid brigade had gone too far in its self-declared policy of enforcing a moral code in the city.

By late afternoon it even dawned on top clerics of the mosque that they have perhaps trespassed into a territory that could bring the wrath of the government within minutes. Better sense prevailed, and the crisis was averted with an announcement by the Lal Masjid clerics about the release of the Chinese. An attempt to justify the action accompanied the news.

“We released them in view of Pakistan-China friendship and after an assurance by the local administration that all such health clinics and massage centres, where ‘objectionable activities’ are carried out, would be closed in Islamabad,” Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy chief of Lal Masjid, said at a crowded press conference at the mosque after a four-hour meeting with senior officials of the local administration and police.

“After receiving a number of complaints regarding ‘sex business’, our students and people of the area took an action that should have been taken by the government,” he said.

The Chinese massage parlour-cum-health clinic, established in a house in sector F-8/3, was raided by about 20 students of the Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia on Friday night. The students alleged that the parlour was a front for a brothel. They abducted nine Chinese, six of them women, and took them to Lal Masjid.

Maulana Ghazi said the raid was conducted on the complaints of about 10 students of the Beacon House School and people living in the vicinity.

The Chinese women were released during the press conference after they Agreed to wear burqa.

A source told Dawn that the abducted people were released on the intercession of the Chinese Ambassador, Luo Zhaohui.

Mr Luo had got in touch with the prime minister soon after learning about the incident. In Addition, he called on PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and opposition leader in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman.

Interestingly, Religious Affairs Minister Ijazul Haq said in a press conference that Chaudhry Shujaat and other important personalities used to visit the health clinic for medical aid.

During the meeting with the Chinese ambassador, the PML chief arranged a telephonic conversation between the envoy and Maulana Ghazi, of the Lal Masjid, the source said.

“I asked Lal Masjid ulema to release all Chinese nationals and they assured me that they would be released soon,” Mr Luo told Dawn. However, he said, it was the responsibility of the government to provide security to all Chinese nationals working in Pakistan.

`SHOCKING, UNLAWFUL’: The interior ministry, in a press release, said the kidnapping by the Lal Masjid brigade was a shocking and unlawful act. “In their unlawful activities over the past several months, they have exceeded all limits and are bent on continuing their illegal campaign despite utmost patience and tolerance shown by the authorities to wean them away from the dangerous path,” it said.

Maulana Ghazi told reporters that he had warned the local administration that students of Lal Masjid could take similar action against other massage centres in Islamabad which, he alleged, were being used as brothels.