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Over 100 Chinese women flee to Lahore

June 28, 2007


ISLAMABAD, June 27: More than a hundred Chinese women working in a dozen massage parlours in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have moved to Lahore, a reasonably safer abode, following threats to their lives after the abduction of nine Chinese citizens by the Lal Masjid brigade.

The Lal Masjid brigade - a group of Islamabad-based Jamia Hafsa students and clerics who have launched a drive to implement Shariah in the country - had abducted nine Chinese citizens, six of them women, on June 22 from a massage parlour in the posh F- 8/3 sector of the capital by accusing them of indulging in ‘objectionable activities’.

All the Chinese citizens were released a day later after some successful diplomatic endeavours.

However, Chinese parlours were closed immediately as the news of the kidnapping of the Chinese citizens spread like wild fire around the world. And, now the capital may be safe for anything but the massage business.

Sources told Dawn that a number of Russian and Turkish women who were providing home massage services in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad have also moved to other cities. Some of them are present here but not receiving their cell phones. They said a number of Chinese women working in massage parlours had also fled to China.

The Chinese massage parlours providing facilities of acupuncture, osteopathy, hot stone massage and body-to-body massage, Chinese herbal medicines, remedial massage etc., have mushroomed in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad over the last two years. However, their number had drastically increased over the last one year after their clients multiplied.

Once a luxury of the elite was now also enjoyed by the middle and upper middle class, especially the employed youth and middle-aged businessmen.

“We have been incorporated by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and our businesses are legal. We pay taxes to the government of Pakistan. But, our lives and honours are in extreme danger,” a Chinese, Ms Liza, told Dawn on phone from Lahore.

Liza was operating her massage parlour at a hundred metre distance from a religious seminary in G-10/3 sector for the past 18 months. She had to set for Lahore along with her 10 fellow workers, all of them women, immediately after hearing the news of the abduction of their countrymen. She said the Chinese embassy had also advised them to stay away from Islamabad at least till things get settled.

She said they knew the sensitivity of their business that’s why they had not even displayed a signboard on the two-storey house wherein they were running their parlour. Customers would take time on phone before they dropped in.

“But, it was a good business as we received 35-40 visitors on average and charged them with Rs2,000 each for complete body massage,” she said.

Ms Aleena, head of a Chinese massage parlour operating in the same sector, said she had seen some suspicious bearded men roaming near her parlour.

“My six other colleagues and me were harassed for two days before we fled [to Lahore],” Ms Aleena said. She said she was in contact with four other Chinese massage centres and had to leave Islamabad in a rented Coaster along with them on Tuesday last.

She said the massage businesses in Islamabad were booming keeping in view the close nature and strict cultural values of Pakistani society, where such facilities were very rare, and the reasonable income of a majority of its residents.

In March this year, she said she had decided to expand her business by inviting some more Chinese women and hiring another house in Sector I-8 but could not do so keeping in view the deteriorating law and order situation in the federal capital and creeping Talibanisation.

In response to a question, Ms Aleena admitted that some parlours were also dealing in the sex business.

“But, I ask you whether brothels are new to the Pakistani society. Go to any city and you will find local brothels, which are extremely unsafe and which are busy round the clock,” she asked.

She said her clients also include men from various diplomatic missions and foreigners operating in various multinational institutions in Pakistan.

A number of Chinese women running massage parlours told Dawn that they were not willing to open their businesses in Lahore as Islamabad offered better opportunities to expand and earn more.

They said the Chinese embassy in Islamabad had also warned them of the strong presence of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in Lahore, whose supporters have already hijacked the Lahore University and are doing the same things in Lahore which the Lal Masjid brigade was doing in Islamabad.

Ms Ling, another parlour operator, said she hoped that Islamabad would be more secure for them after the next general elections. She, however, did not explain as to how they would be able to restart businesses amidst the presence of religious seminaries in almost every sector of the capital.