ISLAMABAD: They dreamed of landing jobs that would enable them to support their families. Instead, these girls found themselves trapped in commercial sex work.
After four years, when they finally escaped the harrowing ordeal, their brother was killed, their sister’s husband tortured by the police in a “trumped-up” theft case, and they were told acid attacks awaited them.
Despite the odds, the two sisters Z, 20, and S, 21, have been struggling for justice for the last year-and-a-half, but the political clout of their opponents has left their hopes dwindling.
“I was 15 and lived in Faisalabad when, almost five years ago, a neighbour we knew as Ayesha ‘baji’ visited our house. She told her parents that she will get me and my sister jobs at her salon in Dubai,” said Z talking to The Express Tribune. Her poverty-stricken parents agreed, and there, their troubles began.
Ayesha’s husband forged documents for the girls before they were taken to the United Arab Emirates. The girls were just 15 and 16 at the time.
Only after reaching the city of golden dreams did then learn what they would really be doing. “We had to sell our bodies,” said one of the sisters, with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Their two ‘agents’- the couple comprising Ayesha and her husband – took them to a flat in a high rise on Kuwait Street in Bur Dubai, where they were kept for four years and tortured whenever they refused to partake in their new profession. The agents charged around AED3,000, the equivalent of Rs80,000, for a 90-minute appointment.
S pulled up her sleeve to show a large, partially-healed burn on her arm. “Ayesha put a heated iron on my arm when I refused to do the job.”
The girls were occasionally allowed to return to Pakistan, but only one at a time. Why didn’t they tell someone when they were in their home country?
“Ayesha said they would kill my brothers and father,” said Z, explaining that they couldn’t tell anyone as long as the other was still in captivity.
The couple allegedly ‘hired’ girls by using false promises, and kept them at work using blackmail. Every new girl was first filmed doing the deed, with the recordings an additional source of blackmail. Threats to relatives’ lives were also part of their standard operating procedure.
When the alleged criminal couple was coming to Pakistan for a vacation, they chose to bring both girls along for the first time. Seeing a chance to escape, the girls asked if they could both go to see their parents.
The couple relented, trusting that the girls had developed an affinity for them, and would not squeal on them. The girls rushed over to their parents and revealed all.
Since then, they have filed a case with the police, for which they have faced death and acid attack threats. One of their brothers was allegedly killed by the same people to put pressure on the family to retract the case.
According to Qamar Sajjad, the victims’ older sister, the local police and an MPA’s son-in-law have allegedly thrown their support behind the culprits and have kept her husband, Muhammad Sajjad, in detention, without registering an FIR. They physically and mentally tortured him for 18 days in a theft case that the traffickers had registered against them. “During the time my husband was detained, I and my sisters stayed in a public park due to fear of being kidnapped,” Qamar added.
Later, Z was shot thrice in the leg, allegedly by the same suspects. Now the family keeps moving around, due to the fear that one of them could be murdered or fall victim to an acid attack. Although a case was registered at Ghulam Muhammad police station in Faisalabad, the girls claim the police tampered with the FIR.
Multiple factors are involved in the delay of justice for the sisters, said their lawyer Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta. The police and FIA are both under pressure due to the involvement of influential people. The suspects are at large and threatening to kill the petitioner, despite having non-bailable arrest warrants issued in their names. The lawyer also hinted at the role of the police and a political leader in the human trafficking operation.
A source in the FIA corroborated each of Bhutta’s claims.
Bhutta said it is common for influential people in Punjab to register two or three FIRs in their respective police stations as insurance in case someone actually tries to challenge them over their misdeeds. “They insert the names of their accusers in the already written report and put them behind bars in false cases. The same happened with the victims’ family when they took up the case.”
The Express Tribune tried to approach the people who had accused the girls’ brother-in-law in the FIR using the phone numbers listed in the document, but the calls were not entertained despite repeated attempts.
Meanwhile, the FIA has failed to properly follow up on the case, with no effort made to approach the Interpol for help. “Under the circumstances, a writ petition is the only appropriate remedy,” says a progress report prepared by the agency.