RICHMOND: The family of a retired Pakistan Army brigadier in the southeastern American state of Virginia was sentenced by a federal court for committing forced labour of their daughter-in-law for 12 years.
The federal court in the state capital of Richmond sentenced Zahida Aman, 80, to 12 years in prison; Mohammed Rehan Chaudhry, 48, to 10 years; and Mohammad Nauman Chaudhry, 55, to five years.
Aman and Rehan Chaudhry were further ordered to pay the victim, Maira Butt, $250,000 for back wages and other financial losses.
The defendants were found guilty by a jury in May of conspiracy to commit forced labour. Aman was separately found guilty of forced labour and document servitude while Rehan Chaudhry was found guilty of forced labour.
Aman was accused of arranging her son’s marriage to Butt in 2002, and keeping her in the Virginia home alongside the other defendants even after the husband left the household in order for her to serve the household as a domestic servant.
“These defendants callously exploited the victim’s vulnerabilities and brutally coerced her labour through physical violence and emotional abuse,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general, said in a statement.
“Indeed, during the course of their illegal agreement and in furtherance of their criminal conspiracy, each defendant assaulted, verbally attacked and abused [the victim’s] children to carefully construct a climate of fear that continuously compelled her labour,” Stephen Miller and Shea Gibbons, assistant attorneys, said in separate court filings.
Moreover, prosecutors said, the three family members took steps toward the end of the conspiracy to conceal their conduct by banishing Butt from the main part of the house, limiting her access to food and basic human interactions and further separating her from her children.
The impact of the forced labour and abuse was so agonizing that Butt twice tried to take her own life by consuming rat poison on one occasion and overdosing on sleeping pills on another.
Butt lost 60 pounds and clumps of her hair during the ordeal, and was physically unrecognizable to one of her brothers when he first encountered her after he traveled to the U.S. from Pakistan to learn whether she was still alive.
“Human trafficking is an affront to human rights and to our nation’s core values. The Department of Justice is committed to vindicating the rights of survivors and bringing human traffickers to justice.”
Prosecutors said the family physically and verbally abused Butt, and forbade her from communicating with her family in Pakistan. In one particularly gruesome incident, prosecutors said the family hog-tied her and dragged her down a set of stairs in front of her children.
They further confiscated her passport, and money, prohibited her from speaking to anyone outside the family, and threatened to separate her from her children by deporting her to Pakistan, according to the Justice Department.
Aman’s attorneys said she still maintains her innocence, is not a “monster” and described the guidelines punishment as excessive. They also noted she’s in poor health, three days shy of her 81st birthday, and that her husband, a retired brigadier in the Pakistan Army, is 95 and “dying.” They sought a sentence of five years probation with home detention.