After mounting international pressure to reveal the whereabouts and condition of Princess Latifa, not seen publicly for the last three years, the Dubai Royal Family have said that she is “being cared for at home.” This scrutiny comes after leaked videos have recently emerged in which she accused her family of holding her hostage after she tried to flee Dubai in 2018.
Earlier this week a BBC Panorama Investigation showed videos, filmed about 2 years ago by the princess, and now leaked by her friends, in which she claims to have been held against her will in a villa for several months and was fearing for her life: “I’m hostage, I’m not free, I’m enslaved, I’m imprisoned in this jail, my life is not in my hands.” The princess also described a failed escape attempt in which she tried to flee Dubai for Oman on a dinghy with her friend. The attempt was foiled after commandos seized the vessel, drugged her, and stretchered off the boat. The videos were secretly filmed over several months and were recorded in a bathroom which was the only room she could lock in the villa.
The U.N. Human Rights Office had asked for evidence of the princess’s safety and “proof of life.” “We raised our concerns about the situation in light of the disturbing video evidence that emerged this week,” Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the U.N. rights office, told reporters, continuing, “We requested more information and clarification about Sheikha Latifa’s current situation.”
Friends of the princess say they are concerned for her safety after they stopped receiving text messages whilst she was being held in a Dubai villa six months ago. The thirty-five-year-old princess is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum―ruler of Dubai as well as the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and also one of the world’s richest men. While the U.N. does not usually become involved in the cases of missing persons, Throssell emphasized it was standard practice to inquire about special cases within its mandate including “cases for whatever reason that have attracted wider focus.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that he was “deeply concerned” by the videos and emphasized that people need to see the princess “alive and well.” In a recent statement, Lynn Maalouf―Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East Director―has also encouraged the international community to act: “Sheikha Latifa has been subjected to a catalogue of human rights violations – including abduction, forcible return and being held incommunicado for almost three years now. Dubai and the UAE must immediately ensure she is released and respect her freedom of movement.”
This is not the first time allegations of abduction and kidnap have been put forward against Sheikh. Last year a UK high court had issued a series of fact-finding judgments which concluded that as well as ordering the abduction of Princess Latifa in 2002 and 2018, Sheikh Muhammed unlawfully abducted Princess Shamsa in 2000. She has also not been seen in public since then. The plight of Princess Latifa has shed perhaps the most public light on a situation that foreign powers have tried desperately to ignore.
Since 2011 repression of lawyers, journalists, activists, students and lawmakers have been systematically silenced by way of arbitrary detentions. This policy is systemic in the UAE and is supported by masses of evidence collected by human rights groups. This evidence, however, has fallen on deaf ears, stuffed instead with promises of tantalizing trade deals and international investment. The silencing of Princess Latifa has become a public example of this increasingly oppressive climate. However, as global interest increases in this very public case and the appeal for answers grows louder, it appears that the personal and political privacy afforded to Sheikh Muhammed when conducting his affairs is slowly waning.