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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Imprisoned’ by Embassy Official, Man Says

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - A Pakistani diplomat and his wife subjected a domestic worker to "slavery-like conditions" in Virginia, the man claims in a federal complaint.

Describing himself as a 26-year-old father of two, Bilal Hussain says his forced labor began after he met Irfan Shaukat in Islamabad, Pakistan.

A frequent guest of the Foreign Office Hostel where Hussain worked, Shaukat often paid Hussain to perform various errands during his stays, according to the complaint.

Hussain, a native of the Muzaffargarh province, says Shaukat approached him in February 2014 about following his family to the United States.

Shaukat allegedly said he was taking up a post at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C., and in need of a domestic worker.

Swayed by the promise of earning $9 an hour, for 40 hours a week, Hussain says he made his way to the United States the next month only to find himself "effectively ... imprisoned and forced to work under intolerable working and living conditions."

Hussain's complaint describes Shaukat's embassy position as "counsellor - head of chancery," the in Washington, D.C.," but the embassy's website no longer lists him as an officer.

The embassy, which is not a party to Hussain's lawsuit, did not return a request for comment by press time. Citing concerns for Hussain's safety, Patricia O'Connell, a spokeswoman for his attorneys at the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein, declined to comment.

Wiley Rein attorney Umair Javed signed the complaint that says Shaukat confiscated Hussain's passport and made him live in the basement of Shaukat's home in Vienna, Va.

Alleging that Shaukat "never directly paid Mr. Hussain a single dollar for his services," the complaint says Shaukat instead sent Hussain's family in Pakistan the equivalent of $150 a month.

The salary "amounted to $5 a day, or less than 62 cents per hour," according to the complaint.

Hussain says he never received a day off, typically working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and always on-call.

Shaukat employed tactics common among "human traffickers to compel Mr. Hussain's labor," the complaint states.

In addition to isolation, Shaukat allegedly subjected Hussain to "psychological coercion and manipulation as well as physical intimidation and verbal abuse."

Hussain says Shaukat and his wife threatened his life and the lives of his family, making Hussain think "he would be arrested by law enforcement authorities or killed if he did not comply with the Shaukats' orders and demands."

Rania Shaukat, the wife, "regularly and repeatedly insulted and berated Mr. Hussain in an effort to demean, abuse, or intimidate him," the complaint states.

Hussain says she called him "an 'animal' that 'did not know how to talk to people.'"

"She would also humiliate Mr. Hussain by calling him demeaning slurs in the presence of the family's guests,'" the complaint states.

Hussain says his attempt to speak out on July 29, 2014, attracted attention by the Fairfax County police, but only "incensed" his employer.

He says Mrs. Shaukat "locked Mr. Hussain in the basement," and demanded contact information for his family in Pakistan to "receive [his] dead body," because "there was no way [he was going to leave the U.S. alive." [Brackets in original.]

Hussain allegedly escaped shortly thereafter, called a trafficking hotline and was taken by police to a homeless shelter. The International Rescue Committee has given Hussain aid and support, according to the complaint.

The complaint seeks punitive damages for trafficking, forced labor, fraudulent misrepresentation, false imprisonment, assault and other claims.

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