University research officer Muhammad Shirjeel Khan was sentenced in Brisbane District Court this morning. Picture: Facebook
University research officer Muhammad Shirjeel Khan was sentenced in Brisbane District Court this morning. Picture: Facebook

UQ research officer sexually assaulted student

A university research officer who sexually assaulted an international student while she was couch surfing at his house has fronted court.

Muhammad Shirjeel Khan, 29, faced Brisbane District Court this morning after pleading guilty to sexual assault and common assault over the incident that occurred at his St Lucia house in July 2018.

The court was told that the University of Queensland PhD graduate met the German student through the social networking site Couchsurfing and offered to let her stay in his bed while she looked for permanent accommodation.

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The next morning, the 24-year-old student woke about 6am to Khan touching her vagina outside her pyjamas.

Muhammad Shirjeel Khan was undertaking a PhD at the time of the assault. Picture: Facebook
Muhammad Shirjeel Khan was undertaking a PhD at the time of the assault. Picture: Facebook

She asked him what made him think it would be okay to touch her and he replied: “Nothing, you just came in yesterday and I liked you.”

When she told him she would go to police, Khan grabbed her arm forcefully.

Khan’s barrister Sophie Harburg said he grabbed her arm in an attempt to calm her which she admitted was “extremely misguided conduct”.

The court was told the young woman had returned to Germany and could not face returning to Australia to complete her studies.

“She (speaks of), in her words, feeling soiled, used and worthless as a result of the offending,” crown prosecutor Stephanie Gallagher said.

Khan, of Pakistan, was working as a research officer while undertaking his PhD through UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering.

Khan’s student visa was cancelled when he was charged over the assault. Picture: LinkedIn
Khan’s student visa was cancelled when he was charged over the assault. Picture: LinkedIn

His student visa was cancelled after being charged but the court was told he had lodged an appeal application through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

He is currently on a bridging visa.

Ms Harburg asked Judge Vicki Loury to consider a fine as he may not be able to undertake community-based orders, due to his visa issues.

She said Khan was extremely sorry for his actions.

Judge Loury said the #MeToo Movement had shown how common sexual assaults were and a fine would not send a strong enough message to the community.

“No person has a right to touch another sexually unless that person gives his or her consent,” Judge Loury said.

“She did nothing to indicate in any way that she was interested in any sort of sexual activity with you.

“Your conduct was disgraceful and shameful but I accept that you are genuinely sorry for what you did.”

Khan was sentenced to nine months’ jail, which was wholly suspended.

*For 24-hour support phone Queensland’s DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or MensLine on 1800 600 636, NSW’s Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 or the national hotline 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Originally published as UQ research officer sexually assaulted student