Human rights advocates across the world are concerned for the safety of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, daughter of Sheikh Mohamed bin Rachid Al Maktoum of Dubai, who has been held in captivity by her father ever since her attempted escape from the UAE in 2018. Shortly before her escape attempt, Latifa recorded a video message. In the video, she described her intolerable state of unfreedom. She claimed that she was monitored around the clock and that she was forbidden from studying or traveling, having not left the UAE since the year 2000, when she was still a child.

Latifa escaped from Dubai with the aid of her friend Tiina Jauhiainen and former French spy Hervé Jaubert. Jaubert himself had escaped from the desert kingdom in April 2008. As their ship reached the shores of India, it was commandeered by UAE security forces. According to Jauhiainen, Latifa repeatedly stated that she intended to claim asylum in India, yet her plan was quickly upended. The princess was injected with a tranquilizer and immediately returned to Dubai on a private jet.

“They sent over 500 men, five warships, two planes, two helicopters, two high-speed boats, 15 commandos,” Jaubert told Inside Arabia. “This time they really wanted to make sure we would not get away.”

Since that day, Latifa has rarely been seen in public. It was assumed she had been held prisoner, likely under chemical sedation, as happened to her sister Shamsa following her own escape in the year 2000. However, it recently came to light that the princess, 35, had been recording secret videos, which she sent to close friends. She also sent regular text messages to a number of individuals. It is likely that the mobile phone or device she was using was unbeknown to her captors.

However, to the alarm of those who support the princess, Latifa’s messages recently stopped, stirring the assumption that she had been caught and fears about her current situation. A recent UN investigation into her whereabouts concluded that there is “no sign of life” from the princess.

“Every day I worry about my safety and my life. I don’t know if I will survive the situation.”

In the video messages, Latifa described her captivity in vivid detail. She referred to herself as “a hostage,” while talking about her accommodation. “This villa has been converted into a jail,” she said. “All the windows are barred shut.” She also spoke of fearing for her life, and of the regular threats of her captors. “Every day I worry about my safety and my life,” she said. “I don’t know if I will survive the situation. The police threaten me that I will be in prison my whole life and that I will never see the sun again.”

In recent months, Tiina Jauhiainen and others have taken the decision to release some of their correspondence with Latifa. “There have been some sleepless nights over this,” Jauhiainen told the BBC, “but it is time to do something. . . .I feel that she would want us to fight for her.” Latifa’s videos provide a chilling counterpoint to the official story put out by her family – that the princess is happy at home in Dubai. “Anybody who cares is going to know that I am not free and I am not going to go along with their propaganda,” says Latifa in one video.

[Detained in Dubai: Stories of Injustice in the Gulf – X]
[Detained in Dubai: Stories of Injustice in the Gulf – XI]

Latifa’s only public appearance since her recapture was a bizarre one – a dinner with her family and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Irish President Mary Robinson in 2018. The event, which was organized by Princess Haya bint Hussein, Latifa’s stepmother and wife of Sheikh Mohammed, was a publicity stunt, designed to quash fears that Latifa was being held prisoner.

Speaking in one of her recent videos about her conversation with Princess Haya prior to the dinner, Latifa recounted: “She said to me that it would be like a test, to see how you will react around people after being in prison for so long. She said that ‘If you react well, you will be out in a few days.’”

Mary Robinson claims that she was convinced by the family that Latifa suffered from bipolar disorder, as an explanation of her behavior during the meeting. Yet many doubt whether it is possible Robinson would have been unaware of Latifa’s situation, given that her escape had been publicized the world over. In a video recorded after the dinner, Latifa stated that she was unaware of who Robinson was during the meeting. She added that, if she had known, she would have asked for help. “It was all a set up,” she said. “They tricked me.”

Shortly afterwards, Princess Haya herself escaped Dubai. She claimed that the Sheikh had restricted her freedom in much the same way as he had that of his daughters, not to mention the general female population of the UAE, who are often restricted by laws that give male guardians authority over women. Princess Haya has since taken refuge with her two children in an undisclosed location in London.

While Tiina Jauhiainen and Hervé Jaubert were captured along with Latifa in 2018, both were later freed. Today, Jauhiainen is active in the Free Latifa campaign and has appeared regularly in the international media, raising the alarm about Latifa’s predicament.

Dubai hosted a global women’s conference in February 2020, while the Sheikh was holding at least one of his daughters prisoner.

Meanwhile, for Sheikh Mohammed, life has continued more or less as normal. Dubai even hosted a global women’s conference in February 2020, while the Sheikh was holding at least one of his daughters prisoner and was fighting a court battle in the UK to have his wife (Princess Haya) and their children returned to Dubai.

During the court proceedings, Haya’s lawyers cited the treatment of Latifa as evidence. The court ruled that Sheikh Mohammed had facilitated the abduction of Latifa and her sister Shamsa. The Dubai government has declined to comment on the case of late, but has previously stated that: “Latifa is safe in the loving care of her family.”

Speaking to the BBC about the UK court ruling in Haya’s case, Tiina Jauhiainen said: “It was a big breakthrough for all of us. I thought that this would be a great opportunity for the UN to make a public statement to pressurize the UAE more or do something that could quickly lead to [Latifa’s] release. But Latifa was still held prisoner.”

Jauhiainen speaks with some degree of panic about Latifa’s current situation: “What if I don’t get to speak to her again?” she asked. “If we assume that she was caught with the phone, her conditions now are probably a lot worse.” Speaking to Inside Arabia, Hervé Jaubert shared a similar view. “She is in hell,” said the former spy. “It does not look good at all.”