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Czech system discriminated against British-Pakistani husband over child custody: lawyer

Otaiba Sheikh and Jana Sheikh. Photo: Reporter

LONDON: The English lawyer of a British-Pakistani father, battling for the custody of his two minor daughters with his former wife in Czech Republic has said that her client was discriminated by the Czech system for being a Muslim and his ethnicity.

Otaiba Iftikhar Sheikh was beaten by his former wife Jana Sheikh and then hired gangsters in the on-going battle for the custody of their two British-born daughters aged six and four.

Dr Lusine Navasardyan has alleged that the Czech authorities did not handle the case according to the Hague Convention. She added that due to this  the Czech authorities failed to protect the best interest of the children under their authority.

Navasardyan said the Hague Convention (officially known as Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction) was put in place to deal with instances when one parent removes the child from the country of habitual residence of that child, without the other parent’s consent.

“The Convention allows the other parent to seek repatriation of the child. The return of the child, however, is not an automatic process. Article 13B of The Hague Convention states, that the member state (of the convention) that the child has been moved to, needs to make an order for the child’s return. When an application for return is made, the parent who has removed the child can put forward a defence and ask for the child to not be returned. The child will not be returned to the country of residence if it is believed that the child will be put in an unbearable or harmful environment,” said the lawyer

She clarified that to ensure a child’s safety, the orders made under this convention are enforceable in the state where the child is being returned to.

“This is an important and integral part of the system and if the member states ignore orders made in another member state, then they can be considered non-conforming countries and in future any applications from them to return children to them will be dealt accordingly,” said the lawyer, while emphasising why it was important to examine the case in this situation.

The lawyer added that this was also important for the UK courts to know if there was a breach committed by the Czech authorities.

Otaiba married Jana Sheikh, a Czech national, in Prague in 2011 after falling in love. According to the father’s Czech lawyer Hedvika Hartmanova, the couple separated in 2011 when Otaiba discovered that his wife was cheating on him and working as an escort.

Soon, Otaiba filed for a divorce and was given 50 per cent custody of the children in December 2018. After Jana abandoned the girls, Otaiba sought to take full custody of the children.

However, a Czech Court, presided by Judge Dita Krizova, refused to agree to the terms and threatened to put the girls in the state’s care rather than handing them over to the father.

The court was informed that the reason the children were repeatedly abandoned by their mother was because Jana had prioritised her work as an escort in Norway. Yet, the judge chose to ignore this fact.

The court was also informed that Jana had an ongoing drinking problem and had failed to provide a safe environment for the two minors at their home.

Court papers show that Otaiba’s lawyers had also expressed the fear that the young girls may have been sexually abused. However, the Czech social services did not address the father’s concerns.

In September 2019, Otaiba brought his daughters to the UK to ensure their safety and well being after the Czech social services and the courts decided not to investigate his concerns.

However, Otaiba did not inform his former wife about his decision to take the girls from Prague to London.

As a response, the wife approached the London High Court’s family division and alleged that her daughters were abducted. The London court ordered the father to return to Prague with the minors and approach the courts in Czech Republic once again.

However, Jana breached the court order and made sure that Otaiba was arrested at the Prague airport.

Otaiba Sheikh’s Czech lawyer Hedvika Hartmanova pointed out that the Czech authorities have given preference to the mother and overlooked the safety and well being of the children.

Navasardyan claimed Otaiba’s situation was not unique.

“Even in this day and age, fathers are quite often discriminated against in matters of children. While the UK has somewhat improved on that, Czech Republic seems to be much behind on that respect,” said Navasardyan.

She clarified that even though she could not comment on the handling of the matter by the Czech courts but felt that there was a clear bias against her client.

“It also seems to have been exacerbated by the fact that the father is of Pakistani and Muslim background,” said the British lawyer.

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