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Saturday Jan 04 2020

How a Pakistani man married for love and fell victim to bias in Czech Republic

Image on the left shows Otaiba Sheikh with his ex-wife Jana Sheikh, while the image on the right shows Otaiba with one of his daughters after being beaten by his ex-wife and gangsters in the Czech Republic. 

LONDON/PRAGUE: A British-Pakistani father has been beaten by his wife and hired gangsters in the Czech Republic's capital in his legal battle with his former wife for the custody of their two British-born daughters, aged six and four.

Otaiba Sheikh, a computer science graduate from London who currently lives in Prague, has faced several issues with the justice system in the Czech Republic in his legal fight, which has now entered its third year, for the custody of two daughters who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Otaiba Sheikh married Jana Sheikh, a Czech national, in 2011 when the couple fell in love. They got married in Prague. A year later, the couple decided to move to London where Otaiba had a lucrative job at a multi-national company. The couple lived in South London for three years before returning to live in Prague in 2015. Otaiba continued working in London, returning to Prague on the weekends.

Geo News spoke to Hedvika Hartmanova, Otaiba Sheikh's Czech attorney, who explained the horror that the British Pakistani father has been facing for many months now.

The lawyer, who shared details of the case, said the couple's marriage started going downhill after Otaiba discovered in 2017 that his wife was cheating on him. He filed for divorce and was given 50 percent custody of the children in December 2018 after Jana abandoned the girls and then offered Otaiba full custody. Shockingly, the court refused to agree and threatened to put the girls in care rather than giving them to Otaiba – a Muslim father. Matters deteriorated further between the two over various issues.

The attorney said, quoting court papers, that Jana Sheikh had an ongoing drinking problem and had failed to provide a safe living environment to the two minors at the family home where strange and unrelated men visited.

In the court papers, Otaiba Sheikh has alleged that Jana Sheikh neglected the young girls on many occasions as she started working for an escort agency in Prague, including travelling to Norway to provide similar services where she was once arrested for shoplifting and detained overnight by the local police.

Image shows Otaiba Sheikh with his two daughters (faces blurred to protect identity of the minors).

"We established before the court that Jana Sheikh regularly visited Norway to meet her clients while neglecting her daughters. She was arrested and detained overnight in Norway for shoplifting and drunken behaviour. She offered her services through the website of a local massage service. There was no appropriate arrangement for the girls in the absence of their mother," the lawyer shared.

The court papers show that Otaiba Sheikh alleged before the court that Jana threatened to leave the family home in February 2018 on the excuse that the heating system had broken down. On checking, the heating system was found to be working perfectly. Around the same time, Otaiba's daughter had independently informed her school staff that her mother and friends were planning to kill her father. This information is documented with the Czech police, the lawyer confirmed.

Otaiba Sheikh arrived at the house to check the heating and collect their daughter for school when he was set upon by Jana and two men who were there waiting for him. One of them set his bullterrier dog at Otaiba Sheikh. In the fight that ensued, Otaiba Sheikh received several injuries to his head and a permanent injury to his hand. The Czech police investigated and recommended criminal charges.

The Czech prosecution services took no action against the attackers, in spite of having in possession a video recording of the entire assault.

Following this incident, the father soon found out that his young daughters were living in a caravan with their mother shared by strangers. The lawyer claimed that the child informed her father that they were made to share beds with strangers. This information was conveyed to Czech Social Services and the British Embassy in Prague, the lawyer told Geo News.

The British Pakistani man's life went into a complete nightmare when a client of his wife approached him and asked for 50,000 CZK borrowed by Ms Jana for an augmentation surgery.

"Furthermore, this client submitted a statutory declaration confirming that he visited Jana while the girls were present in the apartment. He also provided the girls' photographs on his mobile. The Prague regional Court (not the Family Court) has accepted and confirmed the statutory declaration to be correct stating that she is a sex worker including her visits to Norway while abandoning the girls," lawyer Hedvika Hartmanova explained.

Concerned about the wellbeing of his daughters, Otaiba's lawyers expressed their concerns to both the UK and Czech authorities but none were able to ensure the safety of his daughters. In court papers, the British Pakistani father alleged that his daughters may have been sexually abused but the Czech social services didn't do anything to look into the father's concerns.

Lawyers acting for Otaiba confirmed that Jana has been convicted for stealing her ex-husband's belongings and has been given a 12-month suspended sentence by the Czech courts. "That's a matter of public record in the Czech Republic. Jana was also ordered to pay CZK 37,600 to her ex-husband," Hedvika Hartmanova said.

All this while, the police, social services and the justice department didn't help the Pakistani father and apparently always acted against his interest and his concerns for the safety of his daughters.

Otaiba and Jana Sheikh during after their wedding.

Otaiba Sheikh's lawyer said that she didn't rule out the element of racism and Islamophobia in how the British Pakistani father was treated by the Czech system. Hedvika Hartmanova said that the family strongly believes that it has become a victim of Islamophobia and racism.

A research shows that the lawyer for Jana is Ms Klara Samkova who has a history of making Islamophobic threats and sharing derogatory fake news regarding Muslims.

As the tussle between the father and mother increased, the mother shifted the daughters, who were enrolled in a bilingual school which taught both English and Czech, to a public school which only taught Czech even though the father had been taking care of the expenses. The mother also tried and succeeded to send the girls to an earlier grade so that she would not be obligated to take them to school every day, said the Czech lawyer for Otaiba Sheikh.

She quoted the father's family as saying that they were concerned that the girls have been admitted into a Czech language school only to alienate the daughters from their father's British culture.

In some transcripts released to this reporter, the mother confirms that she does not want the children and has been unable to develop a bond with them. She has also been telling her clients that she is afraid her children will "spill the beans" on her if they found out what was going on around them.

Fed up of the whole situation, Otaiba Sheikh brought his girls to the UK to seek help in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his daughters. He didn't inform his ex-wife about this decision and there was no agreement for the removal of the girls from Prague to London.

The Czech lawyer quoted his client Otaiba as saying that he informed the local authorities in the UK and asked them to get involved but the local authorities refused to act.

Otaiba was forced to give back custody of the children to the mother within three months by the London High Court. While the court had promised a "soft arrival" to Otaiba upon landing in the Czech Republic, he was arrested and kept in detention for up to 40 hours after Jana Sheikh breached the UK court order.

Sheikh's lawyer said the family is concerned that the Czech system is biased and have discriminated against his Pakistani origin client. The lawyer said that the authorities have given preference to the freedom and activities of the mother while completely ignoring the safety and wellbeing of the children. The lawyer also informed "there is an ongoing criminal investigation, in Czech Republic, covering possible sexual abuse of the girls by mother and friends/clients".

She added: "No visible progress has been made by the Czech police, to date."

The family approached MP for Croydon Sarah Jones, who has taken up their case and also approached the UK's ambassador to the Czech Republic.

In a letter, the MP wrote: "At the heart of it are two very young and vulnerable girls who are at risk of sexual abuse, exploitation and possibly worse."

In the letter, Jones further tells the UK ambassador that the two children are British citizens and "it is unbearable to think that the British authorities are not stepping in to protect them."

The Labour MP has also written to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about this case.

Hedvika Hartmanova told Geo News that his client came to the UK with his daughters in utter desperation, seeking protection and justice for his British born daughters.

"His first calls were to the police, social services and the GP. He was not running. UK courts in their decision ignored the recommendations by the Czech international office for child protection and ordered to return the girls to their mother, who is a confirmed sex worker and services clients in her apartment and is also under criminal investigation for facilitating possible sexual abuse of her daughter. Otaiba Sheikh was sent back to a country which is still failing to provide, on purpose, justice to British citizens."