In secret videos, Dubai princess says held hostage in barricaded villa, fears for her life

In a video broadcast by the BBC’s investigative news program Panorama on February 16, 2021, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, one of Dubai ruler's daughters, says she is being held captive and fears for her life after a foiled attempt to flee.

The daughter of the ruler of Dubai and premier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who tried once to flee her home country but was forcibly returned, has secretly recorded a series of videos, saying she is being held against her will at a barricaded villa.

“I am a hostage and this villa has been converted into a jail,” 35-year-old Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, one of the daughters of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said in one of the videos broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama news program on Tuesday.

She added, “All the windows are barred shut, I can’t open any window.”

The UAE princess said she was making the video in the bathroom of the villa, which is the only room she could lock herself into.

Appearing alert and speaking calmly, Latifa said there were police officers stationed outside and inside the villa. “I just want to be free,” she noted.

It was not clear when or where the video was recorded.

The Free Latifa campaign, which has lobbied for her release, said it had managed to smuggle a phone to the UAE princess, helping her record videos from the villa over several months.

David Haigh, one of the campaign’s co-founders and her lawyer, called for Latifa’s immediate release and an end to “a horrendous period of parental and human rights abuse that has significantly damaged the reputation of the UAE.”

UN to grill UAE about Princess Latifa’s case

Reacting to the revelations, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights suggested that it will raise the detention of Princess Latifa with Emirati officials, after the videos prompted global calls for the world body to investigate the matter.

A spokesman said the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention could launch an investigation once Princess Latifa’s videos are analyzed, the BBC reported.

Princess Latifa drew international attention in 2018, when she announced in a video that she was fleeing the UAE because of mistreatment and restrictions imposed by her family.

However, a source close to the Dubai government said on April 17 that year that the runaway princess “was brought back” to the Persian Gulf state.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited a witness as saying that authorities in the UAE had “intercepted Sheikha Latifa on March 4, 2018, as she tried to flee by sea to a third country, and returned her to the UAE.”

In the footage shared with the BBC, Princess Latifa recounted how commandos took her back to detention as she was fleeing by boat.

She said she tried to fight back by “kicking and fighting” and biting a commando’s arm. The princess was, however, drugged and carried on to a private jet back home.

On December 24, 2018, the UAE’s Foreign Ministry published three low-resolution photos dated December 15, showing Latifa alongside the former UN high commissioner for human rights and Irish president Mary Robinson.

“Photographs taken during the afternoon they spent together have been shared, with their consent. During her visit to Dubai, Mary Robinson was reassured that Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is receiving the necessary care and support she requires,” the ministry said at the time.

The move came after rights groups called on authorities in the UAE to disclose Latifa’s whereabouts and condition.

Last March, a London High Court judge said he accepted as proved a series of allegations made by the Dubai ruler’s former wife, Princess Haya, in a legal battle, including that the sheikh had ordered the abduction of Sheikha Latifa.

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