The daughter of Dubai’s billionaire ruler, who attempted to flee abroad in 2018, has appeared in secret recordings claiming she is being held hostage in a “villa converted into a jail” with no access to medical help, according to a BBC documentary.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum – the daughter of UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – was last seen publicly in March 2018 aboard a yacht off the coast of India before a raid by Indian and Emirati forces took her back to Dubai, according to two people who had helped plan her escape.
It was her second failed attempt to flee abroad after she previously tried to leave the UAE in 2002 as a teenager.
In a video clip, obtained by BBC Panorama and supplied to CNN ahead of ‘The Missing Princess’ documentary airing Tuesday night, Princess Latifa says: “I’m a hostage. This villa has been converted into jail. All the windows are barred shut, I can’t open any window … I’ve been by myself, solitary confinement. No access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing.”
CNN has not independently verified the videos or Latifa’s current whereabouts. CNN has contacted the Dubai government for comment.
Princess Latifa secretly recorded the videos herself on a mobile phone whilst hiding in a locked bathroom, according to the BBC. The documentary says around a year after Latifa was taken back to Dubai, her friend Tiina Jauhiainen was contacted by someone who helped her secretly reconnect with her.
Jauhiainen managed to get a phone to Latifa and since then the princess has recorded many video messages “describing her captivity in a villa converted into a jail with its windows barred shut,” according to a BBC press release.
“BBC Panorama has independently verified the details of where Latifa was being held hostage. She was guarded by around 30 police, working on rotation, both inside and outside the villa. The location is just metres from the beach. It is not known if she is still there,” the press release says.
In another video to be shown in the documentary Latifa says: “I have been here ever since, for more than a year in solitary confinement. No access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing … Every day I am worried about my safety and the police threaten me that I will never see the sun again. I am not safe here.”
Jauhiainen tells the documentary she is greatly concerned for her friend: “She is so pale, she hasn’t seen sunlight for months. She can basically move just from her room to the kitchen and back.”
After her failed escape in 2018, in December of that year Latifa was visited by the former UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. Latifa was seen in grainy photographs alongside Robinson, a former President of Ireland, who said later that Latifa was “troubled” and “regretted” her attempts to escape. Robinson’s account was criticized by human rights activists.
Robinson made the visit at the request of the ruling family, according to a communique the UAE mission in Geneva sent to the Office of Special Procedures at the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the United Nations. “The documents respond to and rebut false allegations that have been made about Her Highness, providing evidence that she is alive and living with her family in Dubai,” the statement said.
However, in the BBC Panorama episode, Robinson gives a different account of her controversial meeting with Latifa in 2018.
“I was misled, initially by my good friend princess Haya, because she was misled. Haya began to explain that Latifa had quite a serious bipolar problem. And they were saying to me, in a way that was very convincing: ‘we don’t want Latifa to go through any further trauma’ … I didn’t know how to address somebody who was bipolar about their trauma. And I didn’t really actually want to talk to her and increase the trauma over a nice lunch,” Robinson says in a clip from the program.
Jordanian Princess Haya bint al-Hussein is the former wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Princess Haya fled Dubai for London with her two children by the sheikh in 2019. The princess, who was the sheikh’s sixth wife and is not the mother of Latifa, later brought a case in London’s high court to seek wardship for her own two children, aged nine and 13, fearing they too would be kidnapped.
Last year, a judge at the family division of London’s High Court found that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum conducted a “campaign of fear and intimidation” against Princess Haya.
The court determined that the sheikh organized abductions of two of his daughters on three occasions – including one from the historic UK city of Cambridge and Princess Latifa in international waters off the coast of India.
Andrew McFarlane, the UK’s most senior family judge, established as fact that Sheika Shamsa, one of the sheikh’s daughters by another wife, ran away from her family in the summer of 2000 while visiting the UK. She was later abducted and forced into a car in Cambridge by men working for her father, before being driven to property owned by the sheikh. There, she was put on helicopter to Deauville in France and then on a jet back to Dubai.
The other daughter, Latifa, had twice tried to escape her Emirati family but was forced back, once in 2002 from the border of Dubai with Oman, and in 2018 “by an armed commando assault at sea” in international waters near the coast of India, the judge found.
“With respect to both Shamsa and Latifa it is asserted that following their return to the custody of the father’s family they have been deprived of their liberty,” the judgement said, finding the assertion to be true.
CNN reported at that time that Sheikh Mohammed – the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates – said the court’s assessment was a one-sided account.
“This case concerns highly personal and private matters relating to our children. The appeal was made to protect the best interests and welfare of the children. The outcome does not protect my children from media attention in the way that other children in family proceedings in the UK are protected,” he said in a statement issued by his representatives.
“As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably tells only one side of the story. I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and do not intrude into their lives in the UK.”