‘Even though she was a princess, all she ever wanted was to be free’

Radhika Sanghani
August 6, 2019, Grazia UK

As the UK courts put the spotlight on the fate of the missing Princess Latifa, her best friend tells Radhika Sanghani why she hopes it could finally lead to her freedom…

Last week, Princess Haya of Dubai made her first public appearance since fleeing to Britain, arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice in London with her legal team to fight her estranged husband Sheikh Mohammed – one of the most high-profile leaders in the Middle East — for wardship of their two children. Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 45, is said to be in fear for her life as she attempts to stop her children being returned to their billionaire father, from London, where she has spent the last month living in an £85 million Kensington townhouse. While details of her court case against the Sheikh cannot be reported, last week it emerged that the princess sought a forced marriage protection order for one of her children. She also applied for a non-molestation order.

Those actions are perhaps even more significant given that Princess Haya’s flight from Dubai earlier this year — thought to have been on a private jet helped by foreign diplomats — is said to have been triggered by her discovery of information about the fate of her stepdaughter, Princess Latifa, who similarly attempted to escape. Crucially, Princess Haya is now the third Dubai princess to try to flee the Gulf state — and the only one who has succeeded.

Back in 2000, Princess Shamsa — one of the Sheikh’s 23 children by his six wives — ran away from her father’s estate in Surrey aged 19, but was later found and brought back to Dubai. Cambridgeshire police investigated the case at the time, but dropped it, only to reopen it recently after receiving new evidence.

Then 17 months ago, Shamsa’s younger sister Princess Latifa, now 33, dramatically tried to escape Dubai via speedboat and yacht to India. She is said to have been captured off the coast of Goa and taken back to her father in Dubai, where human rights activists claim she is being kept against her will.

‘I haven’t seen her since our escape attempt, says Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish martial arts instructor who was Latifa’s best friend, and part of the failed escape attempt. Tiina was captured and kept in a Dubai jail for two weeks after armed guards stormed their yacht on 4 March 2018, reportedly dragging Latifa away.

While Tiina was later released after intervention from the Finnish government, she hasn’t heard a word from her best friend since that night. ‘I’m worried sick,’ she says. ‘I believe she’s locked up somewhere, hidden from everyone.’

Tiina, 42, is now living in London and has been campaigning with human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for Latifa’s release. She only knows her friend is alive because the UAE government released a photo of Latifa in December, claiming that she is ‘troubled’ and made up her allegations of ill treatment.

But Tiina believes her friend — who she’s known for nine years — has been drugged and mistreated. ‘She always said they’d try to discredit her if she was caught, and it’s
not uncommon in these countries to invent mental health problems to discredit women.’

Indeed, before Latifa tried to escape with her friend, she recorded a video that Tiina has since published on YouTube. In it she detailed the restrictions against her; how she had no freedom to study, work, leave the country, or even visit friends’ homes. ‘I feel like if this [escape] kills me or if I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s a video,’ she said on camera. ‘But what I’m hoping for after I leave is that I get my passport and I have freedom of choice in my life, where I have some voice, where I don’t have to be silenced’

Back in January, Princess Haya publicly supported her husband’s story that Latifa was troubled — but it is believed she has since discovered claims about her stepdaughter’s treatment, and has fled the country herself by private jet out of fear. Unlike Latifa, Princess Haya — in a more powerful position as daughter to Jordan’s former king — always had the freedom to travel, and enjoys a higher international profile as a UN peace messenger, which meant her escape wasn‘t as risky as Latifa’s.

Tiina now hopes Princess Haya will use her platform to help Latifa and Shamsa, as well as her own children. ‘Latifa’s situation is the best evidence why Princess Haya’s children shouldn’t be sent back to the UAE; they may face the same kind of treatment. I was a witness to Latifa’s kidnapping, when she was dragged off the boat,’ claims Tiina. ‘So I’d be happy to support Haya’s case — so long as she helps Latifa as well.’

David Haigh, a human rights lawyer working with Tiina and the #FreeLatifa campaign, believes that Princess Haya’ case is Latifa’s best shot at freedom, because it means that Latifa’s story could be discussed in a UK court. ‘We believe that the worldwide media attention gives her a real opportunity: a chance for the world to know what really happens in Dubai if you’re a woman or a daughter — even if you’re royalty,’ he says. ‘We have three princesses all saying the same thing, it’s not something that should be ignored.’

Whatever happens, Tiina refuses to stop fighting for her best friend’s freedom. ‘Even though she was a princess, all she wanted was to be free. It’s so sad it’s been going on for so long — I never expected we’d still be in this position today — but I’m not giving up. No way. I won’t stop until she is free.’

FreeLatifa.com or use the hashtag #FreeLatifa for more information