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Friday Jan 17 2020

Lawyer says Czech institutions discriminated against Pakistani father

Photo: Reporter

LONDON: The lawyer of a British-Pakistani father battling for the custody of his two minor daughters with his former wife in the Czech Republic has said that she has no doubt that her client of Muslim faith and Pakistani origin was discriminated against by the Czech system.

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, who is acting as Sheikh’s British lawyer says the Czech authorities did not handle their obligations under the Hague Convention and as a result, have failed in their obligations to protect the best interest of children under their authority and have disregarded the a UK High Court order based on ratified International Law.

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 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.”

Sheikh’s counsel added that to ensure the children's safety, the orders made under this Convention are enforceable in the other member 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," she said.

“This is why it is important that the actions of the Czech authorities, in this case, are carefully analysed and the UK courts are aware of any breach they have caused. It is the only way to ensure that the UK is not returning children to a country where their safety is not properly assured,” Navasardyan added.

Sheikh married Jana in Prague in 2011 when the couple fell in love. According to Sheikh’s lawyer in Czech, the couple separated when he discovered in 2017 that his wife was cheating on him and working as an escort in his absence.

Sheikh filed for divorce and was given 50 per cent custody of the children in December 2018 after Jana abandoned the girls and then offered Sheikh full custody.

The Czech Court, presided over by Judge Dita Krizova, refused to agree and threatened to put the girls in care rather than giving them to Sheikh. The court was told that the reason the children were repeatedly abandoned and not taken to school, when in the mother’s care, was because Jana had prioritised providing adult services in Norway. The judge however, chose to ignore this fact.

It was established before the authorities that Jana had an ongoing drinking problem and had failed to provide a safe living environment for the two minors at the family home where strange and unrelated men visited. It was also established that Jana 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.

Court papers showed that Sheikh’s lawyers expressed fears that the young girls may also have been sexually abused, but the Czech social services did not do anything to look into the father's concerns. In September 2019, Sheikh brought his daughters to the UK to seek help in order to ensure the safety and well being of his daughters. 

Sheikh, however, did not inform his ex-wife about this decision and there was no agreement for the removal of the girls from Prague to London.

The wife approached the London High Court’s family division with the allegation that minors had been abducted. The court ordered the father to return to Prague with the minors with the express desire they stay with Sheikh. However, Jana breached the court order and Sheikh was arrested at the Prague airport and locked up. It has been confirmed that the children were snatched screaming by untrained officers at the airport.

Sheikh’s Czech lawyer Hedvika Hartmanova said that the Czech authorities have given preference to the freedom and activities of a Czech mother while completely ignoring the safety and well being of half Czech children.

Navasardyan said that the situation Sheikh finds himself in not unique.

“Even in this day and age, fathers are quite often discriminated against in children matters. While the UK has somewhat improved on that, the Czech Republic seems to be much behind on that respect. While I cannot comment on the handling of the matter by the Czech courts, as I do not know the law there, my impression is that there was a clear bias against the father. It also seems to have been exacerbated by the fact that the father is of Pakistani and Muslim background,” she said.