What’s going on?
Otaiba Iftikhar Sheikh, a British-Pakistani Muslim residing in the Czech Republic claims he 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.
Details of the legal battle
According to Sheikh’s lawyer, Dr Lusine Navasardyan, the Czech authorities did not oblige to the rules of the Hague Convention and as a result, have failed in their obligations to protect the best interest of children under their authority. She also claims they have disregarded the a UK High Court order based on ratified International Law.
What is the Hague Convention?
According to Navasardyan, 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.
She said, “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.”
The British lawyer further added that in order to secure the safety of her client’s children, the orders made under this Convention must be enforceable in the other member state where the child is being returned to.
“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.
What’s the context?
Sheikh married Jana in Prague in 2011. The couple then split in 2017 when Sheikh realised that his wife was cheating on him and working as an escort in her free time.
Sheikh filed for divorce and was given 50 per cent custody of the children in December 2018 after Jana abandoned the girls and offered Sheikh full custody.
However, the Czech Court refused to agree to this and instead, threatened to put the girls under care instead of give custody to the father. 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.
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. He did not inform his wife of this decision.
Matters get worse
Upon realising her daughters had left for the UK with their father, Jana filed an allegation with the London High Court’s family division that the minors had been abducted. Following this, 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.
Not a unique situation
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.
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