Latifa's Escape

“They told me your father told us to beat you until we kill you. That’s his orders. Your father’s orders. Your father, the ruler of Dubai, that’s what he said.“

Princess Latifa tried to flee Dubai for the first time in 2002 at the age of 16. She was caught at the border between the UAE and Oman and brought back to Dubai. As a result of her attempt to leave Dubai she was arbitrarily detained by her father and spent 3.5 years in prison in the Zabeel Palace. She was subject to torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.

On 24thFebruary 2018, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai disappeared from Dubai. At the time of her disappearance, HRH Princess Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum was attempting to escape her tyrannical father in the company of her trusted friend, Tiina Jauhiainen, and with the help of the crew of US-flagged boat Nostromo.

On the night of March 4th, 2018, an unprecedented international incident took place in which a significant Indian and UAE military force converged and carried out an unprovoked attack on a small, American pleasure yacht off the coast of Goa, India. This force – consisting of at least two state-of-the-art ships from the Indian coast guard, a UAE Navy frigate, several hundred men, including an elite commando unit and a detachment of the UAE armed and state security forces, helicopters and planes – was sent to illegally capture and kidnap one young woman.

On that night, Indian commandos boarded the yacht Nostromo, savagely beat and tortured the crew of the ship, and dragged the woman away, illegally ignoring her desperate pleas for asylum. That they did this even when they knew they were blatantly violating international law by attacking an American ship in international waters speaks of the power of the man they indirectly served. That man is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the unelected and unchallenged ruler of Dubai, and the woman whose dream of freedom was brutally and violently crushed that night was his daughter, Princess Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

“They told me that your father told us to beat you until we kill you. That’s his orders. Your father’s orders. Your father, the ruler of Dubai, that’s what he said.”

Every individual, regardless of background, has the right of self-determination. That right was snatched from Latifa in what was effectively a state-sponsored kidnapping. That is why there is masses at stake in our campaign to give Latifa the right to leave Dubai in safety. Personal rights, in particular women’s rights, will suffer a setback if Latifa is not freed.

Despite growing up in a gilded cage, Latifa was treated, like so many other women, as forever a child, a mere possession of men, instead of an adult capable of her own choices. The royal palace may be opulent, but for Latifa, and her older sister Shamsa, it is place where she has been imprisoned, abused and tortured on the orders of her father for trying to escape. A place where she is once again detained against her will, most likely drugged and mistreated, or worse. This place is Dubai in the 21st Century, a city selling itself as a modern, tolerant and safe business and tourism destination, yet behind the glittering facade of gleaming skyscrapers and bustling shopping malls, and global brands like Emirates Airlines, lies the sinister threat of human rights violations, corruption and the ever-present eye of a police state.

Latifa had been planning her bid for freedom for years. A part of her plan included making video recordings in case her plan failed. One of the several recordings she made is a 40-minute video chronicling her harrowing experiences and her dreams of a brighter future, and by doing so she delivers a scathing denouncement of the hypocrisy of her father, her extended family, and her society. It is only because of this video, and another longer, yet so far unreleased one, that she might yet emerge alive and physically unscathed, and that her travelling companions were released from captivity. Also, this time Latifa had surrounded herself with trusted friends and advisors who believed in her, and in the universal right to a free life. We at  FreeLatifa campaign, Detained International and Stirling Haigh are proud to be among those that Latifa trusted with her quest for freedom.

in 2018 our world-wide media campaign, complaints to London’s Metropolitan Police and the FBI, and a United Nations enquiry supported by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, saw Dubai forced to release Tiina and the crew.

For nine months the UAE were silent over the fate of Latifa. It was only after the BBC screened ‘Escape from Dubai’ on 6 December 2018, an hour-long documentary that Tiina, David and the team had produced with the BBC, that the UAE were forced to reveal they had abducted Latifa. Days later we now know that Latifa’s stepmother paid for her friend Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide a veneer of respectability by visiting Dubai and testifying that Latifa “regrets trying to escape” and was back “in the loving care of her family”. Robinson was roundly condemned for those comments and for interfering in a live human rights issue; she has partially retracted her comments.

It’s now one year since Latifa was abducted. She is still being held in Dubai against her will, by the very family she and her sister spent two decades trying to flee. Her father’s office says she is receiving psychiatric care and that she is “troubled”. In her pre-escape video, Latifa predicted that if she was captured, she would either be killed or drugged and jailed. Ironically, Mary Robinson’s interference, which was met with worldwide condemnation, has confirmed that Latifa’s fears have come true.

The battle to help Latifa flee Dubai continues through legal battles, UN examinations, and police and FBI investigations. Each week, more and more people learn of Latifa’s plight, millions are added to the list every day, and Latifa’s inspiration has encouraged other women across the Middle East to flee, among them Rahaf Al Qunun and Hind Al Bolooki. Yet Latifa continues to languish in what she described as “hell”. It is time for the international community and everyone – especially women – across the world to unite and secure her freedom.

In the year since Latifa was kidnapped by her father’s security forces, millions of people around the world have heard her story, in her own words. If you haven’t seen it, take the time to watch the remarkable video she made, in which she lays bare the reality of her life. She may live in a palace, but her account makes it clear that freedom of self-determination can be violated regardless of riches.

If Latifa’s video is one person’s story, the ground-breaking BBC Documentary ‘Escape From Dubai – The Mystery of the missing princess’ is an independent presentation about the facts surrounding Latifa’s kidnap. You might also want to read the press statement Human Rights Watchissuedand the press statement of the Guernica Group regarding the UN’s request about the case to the UAE and India.

One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, we will present you with a video of Latifa greeting all those who fought for her freedom. Latifa is the focus of our campaign, but not because she’s Latifa. Latifa stands for every person, especially every woman, who is held against their will when they have done nothing wrong, and sought only to exercise their UN-recognised right of self-determination.