A 23-year-old Pakistani Christian asylum seeker in Thailand and a charity advocating on her behalf have accused an employee at Pakistan's Embassy in Bangkok of sexual harassment and maintain that he may have tried to drug and rape her when she met with him last year to renew her passport.
The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Bangkok recently received a complaint from the head of the London-based British Pakistani Christian Association about an embassy worker in charge of issuing passports known only by the name "Ayaz."
The embassy worker is accused of using his position to try and get sexual favors from a Pakistani asylum-seeking woman named Maherwar Ishaq in exchange for a much-needed renewal of her passport that expired last March.
The complaint was obtained by The Christian Post and explains that Ishaq, whose family faced persecution in Pakistan and fled to Thailand in December 2013, needed to renew her passport last year so that she could legally apply for education courses, open bank accounts and work legally in Thailand.
As an asylum seeker, Ishaq and her family also needed the passports so they can avoid a delay in traveling to a country of refuge once their asylum applications with the United Nations are approved.
However, as BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry explained in the complaint, numerous Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand have complained that they are being refused passport renewals by the embassy even though the embassy previously assured Chowdhry that any citizen of Pakistan can renew their passport, even asylum seekers.
In an attempt to help Ishaq get her passport renewed, Chowdhry went with Ishaq to the Embassy in Bangkok last October and met with Ayaz. According to the complaint, Ayaz told them during the meeting that it is possible for Ishaq to get a passport but she needed to gather all the documents required to process the renewal.
Without Chowdhry, Ishaq returned to the embassy with the necessary documents and fees on Dec. 26, 2016, and asked to meet again with Ayaz. The complaint explains that although Ishaq was initially queued behind two people who were there before her to meet with Ayaz, she was selected before the other two to meet with him.
After asking Ishaq how she was doing and whether or not she had obtained the necessary identification card needed to process the passport, the complaint explains that Ayaz then told her in Urdu, "You look very beautiful today."
"Though she found the statement weird, Ishaq simply said 'thank you,'" the complaint explains, adding that Ayaz then asked for her cell phone number.
Ishaq gave him her cell phone number because she thought it was part of the application process. Ayaz then confirmed with Ishaq that she was the same person who visited his office in October with Chowdhry.
After Ishaq told him that she was the same woman, Ayaz was quoted as telling her: "Your passport cannot be made because you're an asylum seeker. But don't worry, I will make it for you but you will have to meet me outside of office hours. I am free from 4 p.m. Perhaps, we could meet in a cafe and discuss how I can push your application through the process."
The complaint explains that Ishaq then pressed Ayaz on why they could not take care of this matter inside the embassy.
"We cannot discuss this application in public [because] if people hear about it, your application will be refused," Ayaz allegedly told her.
Afraid that her passport would be refused, Ishaq didn't make a scene and left the embassy with no intention of meeting with Ayaz at 4 p.m.
Around 4 p.m. that day, the complaint states that Ayaz began texting her phone. After consulting with Chowdhry, it was agreed that it would be better to keep communication open with Ayaz if Ishaq wanted to get the passport.
"We kept the conversation as professional as possible, but he seemed insistent on trying to be personal with her," Chowdhry wrote in the complaint. "Several times within the conversations, Miss Ishaq brought Ayaz back to the matter of the passport and Ayaz gave assurances that he only wanted a meeting for this purpose. After a series of calls and WhatsApp messages, Ishaq agreed to meet with Ayaz, simply worried that he might block her passport application."
Thanks to a voice recorder she borrowed from a friend, Ishaq was able to record what was happening when she met with Ayaz outside of embassy grounds at a cafe at the Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok on Dec. 28, 2016. The same friend who lent her the recorder also acted as a lookout during the meeting.
"BPCA assumed that Ayaz had a crush and might offer a passport to Ishaq to try and curry favor," Chowdhry wrote in the complaint. "However, we did not predict the predicament that would ensue nor the danger that Ishaq would find herself in."
When Ishaq arrived at the hotel, she said that Ayaz was outside the hotel waiting for her to arrive. Ayaz is said to have told her to get into his vehicle. She asked why they could not meet inside the hotel cafe and Ayaz allegedly told her that his life was at risk at the hotel as an embassy staff member. He tried to reassure her that she was safe with him and she reluctantly got into the car.
Ishaq says that they first stopped at a cafe where Ayaz told her that he was only doing a favor for her because they are "friends." After leaving the cafe, Ishaq says that Ayaz took her to a condominium complex. In the parking lot, Ayaz allegedly told her that they would need to go upstairs to finish the forms.
"She tells him she is uncomfortable and again, he assures her that she has nothing to worry about," the complaint reads, adding that Ayaz had told her days before the meeting that she was to tell no one about their planned meeting. "Before arriving at the condominium, Ayaz is heard warning [Ishaq] to keep her mouth shut, before saying 'if you open your mouth, I will beat you.'"
After reluctantly agreeing to go with him upstairs, they arrive at an under-furnished condominium, which she believes is not where he actually lives. Ishaq said that she and Ayaz then sat on a sofa and began the process of writing an affidavit that Ayaz claimed was necessary for the passport process.
"Over the course of several minutes the sound of the pen moving across the page is interrupted by his questions: 'Why aren't you smiling?'; 'Are you afraid of me?'; 'Would you like some juice?'" the complaint reads. "He offers her juice twice before his tone darkens the third time: 'Just take the juice. Otherwise, I will not do your work,' he says. BPCA believe this was an attempt to use a date rape drug on Miss Ishaq."
After Ishaq refused to drink the juice, she claims that Ayaz playfully pulled a cap off her head and put it on his own head, asking her how he looked. After receiving no response from Ishaq, Ayaz allegedly put the hat back on Ishaq's head and asked, "Why are you sitting so far away?"
According to the complaint, Ayaz insisted that she come closer and grabbed her hands. After Ishaq told him to leave her hands alone, Ayaz then tried to kiss her, which led to "a scuffle that can be heard on the recording."
According to Ishaq, she pushed Ayaz off of her and onto a bed, enabling her to run from the room.
Ishaq told CP through WhatsApp that she believes Ayaz tried to "rape" her. Although she escaped, she explained that she received about three calls from different numbers following the incident which she believes were attempts from Ayaz to reach her.
Since the incident, the BPCA has relocated Ishaq to a safe house.
The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Bangkok has been in communication with BPCA to organize a meeting about the matter. In an email shared with CP, an embassy official said that the embassy "has taken a serious note of the complaint by Ms. Maherwar Ishaq as it is unprecedented."
"Therefore, a committee will conduct an inquiry into the matter and it includes one female member, Aqsa Nawaz, head of chancery, who will provide every possible mental and psychological relief to the applicant," the email states. "However, as per the rules of business, the inquiry committee can't conduct official meetings outside the embassy premises to probe the matter."
"Hence, it is emphasized again that Ms. Ishaq may be asked to approach the embassy directly or we may be provided her contact details so that the just be done after complete investigation," the email continued.
Although the embassy would like to interview Ishaq about the incident, the embassy, Ishaq and BPCA have not come to an agreement on whether the meeting will be held at the embassy or off grounds. Ishaq fears her life will be in danger if she returns to the embassy in Bangkok.
"Given the sensitivity of the charges, it is once again assured that Ms. Ishaq will be provided every possible assurance for her safety during the course of the investigation," the embassy added in its statement to CP.
BPCA has tried to organize a meeting with embassy investigators at a neutral location in which a protective officer with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees would be present as a chaperone. However, the embassy has refused to conduct a meeting outside of embassy grounds, said Chowdhry.
"We wrote to the Pakistan Embassy to seek a removal of the sexual predator who is working in their midsts and has to be viewed as a threat to any young woman seeking a passport, especially any vulnerable Christian. To my chagrin they are insisting they want to interview with Maherwar on their premises," Chowdhry added. "Despite several attempts to resolve this by agreeing to allow the interview at a neutral site where we convinced the UNHCR to provide a protective officer to act as a chaperone, the embassy is stubbornly refusing."
"We have explained that UNHCR have interviewed Maherwar within a week of her attack and that UNHCR have all the recordings of her interview and the incident recording, which they could obtain with her permission, but their stance has not changed," he continued. "The embassy respondent refuses to acknowledge the trauma and anxiety that Maherwar feels toward embassy premises, a place which has become a place of ultimate fear and nightmares."
"Maherwar and her family had to flee Pakistan after an attack by Muslim neighbors [who were] offended by the actions of an 8-year-old nephew," Chowdhry said. "Now she has narrowly survived what I believe was an attempt to rape her, foiled by her refusal to drink from the hand of a dangerous sexually deviant Pakistani official."
Pakistan ranks as the fourth worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List.