Friends of a Dubai princess who claimed to have been kidnapped and held captive by her billionaire father are suspending a campaign to free her after a photograph appeared to show her on holiday in Spain with a British teacher.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, appeared in the picture wearing a facemask at Madrid airport, four months after she recorded leaked videos claiming that she was being held in solitary confinement after a foiled escape attempt, and prevented from travelling.
The videos previously raised international concerns over the 35-year-old’s status and health, with a United Nations panel calling for her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and his government to provide “proof” that she was alive and well.
The latest photo was posted to Instagram early this morning by Sioned Taylor, a former Royal Navy veteran and teacher based in Dubai, who previously posted pictures with the princess in a shopping centre and restaurant in the Emirate.
Taylor captioned the latest photograph of the pair standing together beside a red suitcase: “Great European holiday with Latifa. We’re having fun exploring!”
In her first public statement for months, the princess said: “I recently visited 3 European countries on holiday with my friend. I asked her to post a few photos online to prove to campaigners that I can travel where I want. I hope now that I can live my life in peace without further media scrutiny. And I thank everyone for their kind wishes.”
The princess had previously claimed that she did not have access to her passport and could not leave Dubai without her father’s permission. Asked if Latifa was “okay”, Taylor wrote “she is great” with a thumbs-up emoji.
The Free Latifa group, founded by friends of the princess who helped her to try to flee the oil-rich Emirate three years ago, said it was “on hold” after seeing the photo and receiving messages from Latifa.
David Haigh, a British lawyer who founded the Free Latifa campaign with Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish martial arts instructor and confidante of the princess, said on Monday: “We are pleased to see Latifa seemingly having a passport, travelling and enjoying an increasing degree of freedom, these are very positive steps forward. I can also confirm that several of the campaign team have been contacted directly by Latifa.”
While the group was continuing to seek guarantees on Latifa’s safety and wellbeing, Haigh added: “At present the campaign has put on hold all campaigning activities and we would like to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all those around the world that supported the Free Latifa campaign.”
The photos posted by Taylor and two other women in Dubai last month are the first time the princess has been seen since she claimed, in videos leaked to the media in February, that she was under effective house arrest in a villa that “has been converted into a jail”.
One of 25 children of Sheikh Mohammed, she tried to flee the country by jet ski and boat in 2018, only to be detained by commandos off the coast of India.
“I’m not allowed to drive, I’m not allowed to travel or leave Dubai at all,” she said in a video recorded just before her 2018 escape, in which she was aided by Jauhiainen.
Sheikh Mohammed has always denied mistreatment of his daughter.
In March last year a senior judge ruled at London’s High Court that Sheikh Mohammed, vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, had ordered the abduction of Latifa and her elder sister Shamsa.
Judge Andrew McFarlane said he accepted as proved that the sheikh had arranged for Latifa to be snatched from a boat in international waters off India by Indian forces in 2018 and returned to the emirate in what was her second failed escape attempt.
The findings formed part of a battle between Mohammed and his ex-wife Princess Haya over the custody of their two children.
Radha Stirling, founder of the Detained in Dubai campaign group who was contacted by the Princess after her 2018 escape, said: “We are pleased to see Latifa enjoying increased freedom and time in Europe with friends after what has been a complex three-year long campaign. But a few photos of Latifa does not conclude the matter.
“The UAE and India attacked a US yacht in international waters and kidnapped Latifa along with five foreign nationals, including a US citizen.
“The UAE cannot sweep this unlawful and unprecedented attack under the rug for if they do, they have a green light to commit further crimes outside their jurisdiction.”
The UAE’s embassy in London and the Dubai media office did not respond to requests for comment about the recent photos.
Taylor, originally from Liverpool, is believed to have known Latifa before her escape. On her LinkedIn page, Taylor says she worked as a personal assistant to a female member of the royal family from September 2017 until March 2018. Latifa was captured off the coast of India on March 4, 2018.
Taylor is also an avid skydiver, which Latifa was also well-known for, as well as being a mathematics teacher at Latifa School for Girls, a primary and secondary school in Dubai founded by Sheikh Mohammed.