‘I’m a hostage’: New video messages may shed light on fate of Princess Latifa, Dubai ruler’s daughter

Adam Taylor
February 16, 2021, The Washington Post

In new video footage obtained by the BBC, Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, claims that she is being held hostage by her family.

Latifa drew global headlines in 2018 after publicly alleging that she was being detained against her will, under house arrest.

“I’m a hostage. I’m not free. I am prisoned in this jail. My life is not in my hands,” Latifa says in one video, which her friends say was one of a number she sent after a 2018 incident in which she was apprehended by commandos on a yacht near India.

“I have been here ever since, for more than a year, in solitary confinement. No access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing,” the 35-year-old says at another point in the footage. “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.”

Latifa says the videos were shot in the bathroom of a villa, as it was the only room in the compound with a lock. The footage was aired Tuesday by BBC Panorama. The BBC said Latifa’s friend and former capoeira martial arts instructor, Tiina Jauhiainen, had helped get a cellphone to the Dubai royal so that she could communicate.

Her friends say that Latifa has stopped sending secret video messages of late and that the United Nations must investigate, according to BBC Panorama.

The BBC said it had independently confirmed the location of the villa, which it said was guarded by 30 police officers working in rotations, but the organization said it was not clear whether the princess was still there.

The Washington Post has not independently verified the content of the videos, including when and where they were filmed. The United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The footage is likely to spark renewed outrage about the fate of Latifa, who had released a video in March 2018 that claimed she was being kept against her will by her family and facing torture. Latifa is the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who serves as both the ruler of the Dubai emirate and the UAE’s prime minister.

“They’re not going to take me back alive,” Latifa said in the 2018 video. “That’s not going to happen. If I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s this video.”

In interviews with The Post at the time, a woman who claimed to have visited Latifa said that the princess had become estranged from her father and was restricted from traveling freely both inside and outside the country, but that she had not mentioned any physical abuse. The woman spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared retribution by Dubai’s rulers.

By the time the first video was released, activist groups representing Latifa said she had already tried to make an escape from captivity, with a yacht in which she was traveling intercepted in international waters near India by an unknown but heavily armed group.

Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Dubai, seen in 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)

Maktoum later described the action as a “rescue mission” and suggested that those who had helped his daughter in her escape bid, including Jauhiainen and French businessman Hervé Jaubert, were trying to extort money from his family.

“Certainly a financial demand was made to us. We feared that our daughter was in the hands of a criminal who might hold her to ransom and harm her,” the Dubai ruler said in a statement to a British court during a separate child custody case.

In the episode that aired Tuesday, BBC Panorama also spoketo former U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, who had visited Latifa in 2018 and later described her as a “troubled” young woman who regretted her escape attempt. Photos of the visit were later released by UAE officials.

Robinson told the BBC that she had not been fully aware of the situation and that she had been misled by another Dubai royal with whom she was friendly, Princess Haya Bint Hussein, who said Latifa “had quite a serious bipolar problem.”

“I continue to be very worried about Latifa. Things have moved on. And so I think it should be investigated,” Robinson, a former president of Ireland, told the BBC.

Haya, the 45-year-old daughter of the late king Hussein of Jordan, had been one of Maktoum’s wives and stepmother to Latifa before she moved to Britain with her two children. She entered a bitter international custody battle in 2019 with the Dubai emir in a London court, calling for a protection order and a non-molestation order for one of her children.

The court sided with Haya last year and issued fact-finding judgments that said Maktoum had ordered the capture and return of Latifa in 2018 and during a previous escape attempt in 2002. The court also found that he had ordered the abduction in 2000 of another UAE princess from Britain.

The repeated allegations by female members of Dubai’s royal family have shaken the reputation of Maktoum, who took absolute control of the emirate in 2006 and helped build its status as a high-profile international business and entertainment center.

The Dubai emir has multiple wives and is believed to have several dozen children.