- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A Virginia family was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for conspiracy to compel the forced labor of a female in-law and Pakistan national, Maira Butt.

The three defendants, mother-in-law Zahida Aman, 80, and two brothers-in-law, Mohammed Rehan Chaudri, 48, and Mohammed Nauman Chaudri, 55, face prison terms of 12, 10, and five years, respectively, and an order to pay the victim $250,000 in restitution for back wages and other losses, according to a Justice Department press release.

Rehan Chaudri was also convicted of forced labor, along with the conspiracy charge. In addition to her conspiracy charge, Aman was also convicted on forced labor and document servitude, given her confiscation of Ms. Butt’s immigration documents.

“These defendants callously exploited the victim’s vulnerabilities and brutally coerced her labor through physical violence and emotional abuse. Human trafficking is an affront to human rights and to our nation’s core values,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

Ms. Butt married the family’s eldest son, Salman Chaudri, in 2002 after Aman and Ms. Butt’s mother arranged the pairing. Mr. Chaudri was not around often in the Midlothian, Virginia house due to his out-of-state medical residence, and he would move out entirely in 2006, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

From March 2002 to August 2014, Aman and her sons used physical and verbal abuse, the restriction of Ms. Butt’s communications with her own family in Pakistan, and the confiscation of money, jewelry, and immigration documents to keep the victim compliant with their orders, prosecutors said.

The victim was compelled to work as a domestic servant from early in the morning every day, performing a variety of tasks around the Chaudri property.

These included stripping and staining a deck by hand, mowing the lawn with a push mower, painting both the exterior and interior of the house, and hauling 80-pound cement bags in order to mix and pour cement as part of constructing a walkway in front of the home.

“The defendants exploited someone who should have been a loved family member to force her to work in their home for over [12] years. Forced labor, the modern-day equivalent of slavery, has no place in our country or district, and we will stop at nothing to prosecute those that commit these or similar crimes,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica D. Aber said.

Physical abuse included kicking, slapping, beatings with a wooden board, and even being hog-tied and dragged down stairs in front of Ms. Butt’s children.

Ms. Butt was denied food, and forbidden to drive or speak to anyone except family members of the defendants.

The defendants also kept the four children she had with Mr. Chaudri from 2003 to 2008 away from Ms. Butt, convincing them she was a monster and to spit on her, telling school officers that both of the children’s parents had moved away so as to become their point of contact.

Eventually, the three threatened Ms. Butt with deportation, which would have fully separated Ms. Butt from her children. Over the course of the 12-year ordeal, Ms. Butt lost 60 pounds and clumps of her hair, and tried to kill herself twice, once with rat poison and once with sleeping pills, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In May 2016, Ms. Butt was able to escape the house and report her abuse with the help of one of her brothers, who had come to America from Pakistan. She currently lives in Connecticut with her four children.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.

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