The inside story of the Dubai princess who fled from her billionaire father

Two years ago, Princess Latifa staged an escape from her repressed life in Dubai. It failed and she hasn’t been seen in public since

Radhika Sanghani
February 22, 2020, The Telegraph

When we got in the car on the day of our escape, I turned to Latifa and said, ‘We’re like Thelma and Louise,’ says Tiina Jauhiainen, with a small smile at the bittersweet memory. ‘But then Latifa cried out, ‘No, no, don’t say that! Their story doesn’t have a happy ending.’’ 

That was two years ago, on 24 February 2018, the day that Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, tried to escape her life as a Dubai princess, with the help of her best friend Tiina. 

At 32, it was the first time Latifa had ever been in the front seat of a car, having always had a driver and travelled in the back. The escape was the result of a seven-year plan that involved driving into Oman, taking a dinghy into international waters, and boarding a yacht to Sri Lanka, from where Latifa hoped to fly to the United States and claim political asylum.

‘Latifa was initially relieved when we got to the boat, but every day she was growing increasingly worried that her father might already be after her,’ says Tiina. ‘At times the days on the boat felt really, really long. It got hotter the closer we got to India and the boat was full of cockroaches. Escaping on a yacht sounds glamorous, but it was the opposite. We spent most of our time downstairs, trying to contact journalists on our phones, as Latifa felt that might protect her.’

But after just eight days on board the yacht, captained by Hervé Jaubert (a Frenchman whose help Latifa had enlisted after she read about his own escape from Dubai), the princess’s short-lived freedom came to an abrupt end off the coast of Goa, when the two women heard gunshots from the upper deck. ‘Latifa immediately realised they’d come after us,’ recalls Tiina. ‘We were downstairs hiding in the bathroom. We were scared, hugging each other. There was nowhere to go.’

The father: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid; Ruler of Dubai  (CREDIT: Getty)

The cabin began to fill with smoke – ‘We later realised they were stunt grenades,’ explains Tiina – and the pair were forced on to the upper deck, where they were met by several commandos pointing machine guns at them. ‘It was pitch black with the red lights of the laser sights pointed at different parts of our bodies. I was pushed to the floor, in a pool of blood [several crew members had been injured]. They tied my hands, and shouted, “Close your eyes! Don’t move or we’ll shoot you.”

‘We were taken back to Dubai. That was the last time I saw Latifa. She was being dragged off the boat, kicking and screaming, yelling that she was seeking political asylum. They ignored her. The whole situation was so unreal. I wish I’d said something, but I was paralysed. They threatened to shoot my brain out if I spoke. It was shocking. It was beyond my comprehension.’

Along with Jaubert, Tiina was taken to a national security prison, where she was kept in solitary confinement for several weeks. ‘[I was] in a cell, which was freezing cold with the fluorescent lights always on. There was a hatch in the wall that they’d open to give me food,’ she says.

‘It was mental torture. I was sleep deprived and the guards told me I’d “stabbed the ruler of Dubai in the back”, so I’d get the death penalty, or a life sentence. They tried to make me do a false confession, saying I’d tried to cheat Latifa into escaping. Sometimes they’d get so angry I felt like they were about to hit me.’

Tiina was released after a video that Latifa had made prior to the escape went up on You Tube, and it was made public that she’d tried to leave the country with her. The powerful film, which Tiina helped her make and which has since been seen by more than four million people, begins, ‘If you are watching this video… Either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.’ She goes on to recount what happened to her after her previous escape attempt, and describes her father as ‘the most evil person I have ever met’.

There has never been any response to the video, except a short statement from her family, released in December 2018. ‘Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is now safe in Dubai,’ it claimed.

Sheikh Mohammed, 70, is largely credited with turning Dubai into the global, glamorous city it is today. A keen equestrian who was partly educated in England, he is the founder of the Godolphin racing stable, owns a £75 million estate in Surrey and is an acquaintance of the Queen. Since he began ruling Dubai in 2006, he has launched a number of major businesses including the Emirates airline and the Jumeirah Group, making his family’s worth an estimated $4 billion, all while managing to regularly post his own poetry on Instagram to his 4.9 million followers.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum hosted the Queen in Abu Dhabi, November 2010  (CREDIT: Getty)

Yet behind his public image as a progressive ruler of a forward-thinking country lies a more controversial side. Campaign group Human Rights Watch has called the UAE ‘hypocritical’, and says that any attempt to paint the government as tolerant ‘is laughable.’ In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of people, including British citizen Matthew Hedges, being imprisoned and allegedly badly treated at the hands of the country’s security services.

The country’s laws are also some of the strictest in the world: people can be detained for free speech-related offences, and sodomy carries a 10-year prison sentence. The Emirates also enforces the law of male guardianship, where women can effectively only work with their husband’s permission, must have a lawful excuse if they refuse to have sex with their husband, and must grant full custody of her children to her husband if she wants to divorce him and remarry. Rape victims are also often ostracised for going public.

The strict oppression of women in the UAE appears to extend to the royal family itself. Each of the Sheikh’s wives has her own separate home, and they are not encouraged to mix with each other. In some ways, the expectations of them as royals mean they have even more restricted lives than local UAE women – Latifa has alleged she had no freedom to travel, work, or even have relationships.

The Sheikh and his wives

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum

The ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates has had six wives, who between them have produced between 23 and 30 children. Of the six, two have divorced – or are in the process of divorcing – him

Sheikha Randa bint Mohammed Al-Banna

The Sheikh’s first wife, now in her 60s. She divorced him but has never been allowed to see her daughter Manal

Houria Ahmed Lamara

An Algerian-born woman with whom he had three daughters, including Latifa and Shamsa

Zoe Grigorakos

Greek-born Grigorakos is believed to have a daughter with Sheikh Mohammed

Delila Aloula

A Lebanese-born woman with whom the Sheikh is said to have four daughters

Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma al-Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammed’s senior wife, whom he married in 1979. She is the mother of 12 children, including the Crown Prince

Princess Haya bint Hussein

Has two children with Sheikh Mohammed and is in the process of divorcing him. She lives in London

‘People think, “Oh she’s just a spoilt princess,”’ says Tiina. ‘But she’s not. She’s like anyone who deserves a chance to be  free. Some people say, she had access to money and was able to do a lot of activities – like skydiving, which she loved. But that was just a distraction from her reality. She didn’t want to stay at home. She didn’t even call her home a home. She called it a house, and hated it. She was treated like a minor, and felt like she was suffocating. Her mother was also very religious, so anything like dancing or music was haram (forbidden).’

Tiina, now 43, never imagined she’d ended up befriending an Arab princess. She was born in Finland, where her parents have a flower business, and went to university in London, before moving to Dubai in 2001. She first met Latifa in 2010, after being hired as her capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) instructor. The pair slowly became friends, learning skydiving together, with Latifa going on to become a qualified instructor, with more than 2,500 jumps to her name.

‘It gave her a sense of freedom, and adrenaline, and a reason to get up in the morning,’ says Tiina. ‘All she ever wanted was a normal life. To work. To study. To travel. Our goal was to see the world. I wanted to show her my favourite country, Nepal, and she was desperate to go to Hawaii. We used to talk a lot about what we’d do after our escape. But it did take years for her to trust me fully and open up. She’d lived such a difficult life. It was like she was a prisoner in a gilded cage, with no freedom.’

When Latifa, now 34, finally shared her story with Tiina, it proved to be an unthinkable contrast to the superficially luxurious appearance of her life as an Arab princess, living in her mother’s private palace, complete with a staff of 100 and its own gym. In spite of her wealth, she hadn’t left the country in over two decades, and claims she wasn’t allowed even to visit friends’ houses. She wasn’t permitted to study – ‘her dream had been to study medicine,’ says Tiina – and unlike most of her step-siblings, no plans had been made for her or her sisters to marry, which Tiina believes is due to her and her sister Shamsa’s previous attempts to flee.

Sheikha Latifa photographed alongside former Irish president Mary Robinson in December 2018  (CREDIT: Getty)

Latifa had tried to escape once before, as a teenager, by riding into Oman on horseback. But after being captured at the border, she was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years, when she alleges she was tortured. ‘One  person would hold her, and the other would cane her feet,’ says Tiina. ‘She was given no fresh clothes, toothbrush or anything to wash with.’

Her older sister’s story is even more harrowing. It appears Princess Shamsa tried to run away from her family’s Surrey estate back in 2000, when she was just 18, after being told she wasn’t allowed to go to university. But two months later, she was found in Cambridgeshire, and taken back to Dubai. It is now 20 years since Shamsa was last seen in public.

‘She was imprisoned for eight years after the escape in Dubai,’ says Tiina. ‘She and Latifa used to be really close, but when she was released, she was never the same. Latifa always wanted to help her though. Helping Shamsa was one of her motivations to leave in 2018, because you can’t help someone else until you help yourself.’

There has been huge interest in Latifa’s case, including a BBC documentary that was broadcast in 2018. Then, last year, a third princess changed the narrative in a case that has made global headlines. Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, the sixth wife of the Sheikh and one of Latifa’s stepmothers, managed to leave Dubai in July 2019, taking her two young children with her as she went first to Germany, and then the UK. She has now filed for divorce, and is living in a London mansion with her children, while fighting for their legal custody against the Sheikh in the High Court.

Shamsa – Latifa’s sister – who also tried to escape

Unlike Princess Latifa, whose Algerian mother is considered one of the Sheikh’s ‘lower’ wives, Princess Haya has always had privileges and freedoms that many women in Dubai are denied. A princess in her own right, she was born to the late King of Jordan, and was educated at private schools Badminton and Bryanston, studied PPE at Oxford and is a renowned Olympic equestrian. She also claims she is the only woman in Jordan licensed to drive heavy trucks.

Her marriage to the Sheikh, which took place after the death of her father, was said to be a love match: they bonded over their interest in horses. It isn’t known exactly why she made the decision to leave, but it is believed that she was recently made aware of information concerning Latifa’s story, and that could have caused her to flee out of concerns for herself and her own young children. There are reporting restrictions on Haya’s court case, but it is known that she has applied for a forced marriage protection order – to protect her children from being sent to Dubai and forced into marriage – and a non-molestation order, designed to protect against violence or harassment by a partner, ex-partner or family member.

The only proof Tiina has that Latifa is alive are some photos of her taken in Dubai in late 2018 – she is with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, who is a friend of Princess Haya’s. Latifa looks confused and doesn’t seem to be aware of the photos being taken. Tiina believes that until recently, Princess Haya may have believed the Sheikh’s version – that Latifa was making up her claims. But not any more. ‘I’m obviously hoping this unfinished case will have an impact. If Haya talks about her reasons for leaving, it gives her leverage to help Latifa.’

David Haigh, a human-rights lawyer who helped Tiina create the #FreeLatifa campaign, adds, ‘We’ve spent a lot of time helping Haya and her legal team. We’re hopeful that when she’s able to talk publicly about what happened to her and her reasons for leaving, that she’ll be able to help Latifa in the way we have helped her and her family. For us this is a huge step. She’s one of the most high-profile women in the Arab world.’

Tiina Jauhiainen now campaigns for Latifa’s release  (CREDIT: Max Searl)

It is the first sign of good news that Tiina has had in the last two years. She has been living with friends in south London, without a stable job, while her life has been taken up with trying to campaign for Latifa’s freedom. ‘Anniversaries and birthdays are hard,’ she admits. ‘Nothing is happening. It’s sad. It’s changed my life completely. I’ll never give up hope. But it’s coming to a point now where I have to think about myself too.’

Tiina hasn’t suffered any repercussions from Latifa’s family, but she claims that many of her friends in Dubai were arrested and questioned during the time she was detained. One close friend, she says, was even deported. She’s now concentrating on human rights work to help other women who are oppressed in the Middle East. It’s something that she and Latifa discussed doing together after their escape, and something Latifa touched on herself in her video. ‘There’s only so much you can do when you’re trapped in a country and trapped by all these restrictions,’ says Latifa in the film. ‘I’m feeling positive about the future and I’m feeling like it’s a start of an adventure. It’s a start of me claiming my life, my freedom, freedom of choice. I don’t expect it to be easy, nothing’s easy, but I expect it to be the start of a new chapter in my life and one where I have some voice, where I don’t have to be silenced.’

Tiina now hopes that Latifa’s story will move other Arab women to speak up about the way they are treated. ‘Latifa isn’t the only one who is suffering. There are many other women in similar situations, being oppressed because of inequality, not having the choice to study or work. She’s one of those women. It’s pretty normal over there for a female to be under house arrest for rebelling. And if Latifa as a princess is treated like this, imagine how they’re treated?

Sheikh Mohammed at Ascot in June 2019  (CREDIT: Getty)

‘I hope Latifa’s story sparks a new movement. It’s time for a Me Too of no longer tolerating this kind of abuse in the Gulf. I think it’s time for women to speak out. I know it’s what Latifa would want. In her video, she says even if her escape attempt wasn’t successful,  she didn’t want it to be in vain.’

Latifa’s story has already inspired a fourth former Dubai princess – another woman once married to Sheikh Mohammed – to speak out. Randa al-Banna, from Lebanon, met the Dubai ruler in 1972 in Beirut when she was just 16. She married him shortly after and they had a daughter together. But within a matter of years she left him. She was able to divorce him but says that her ‘punishment’ was not being able to see her daughter Manal, now in her 40s. She stayed silent ever since out of fear of repercussions against herself or the children she later went on to have. But she was inspired to speak out after hearing of Shamsa and Latifa. It has been reported that she repeatedly texted the Sheikh begging him to release Latifa. He never replied.

‘First Shamsa, then Latifa, and now Randa,’ says Haigh. ‘They all have similar stories. “I was abused, I had my daughter taken off me, they threatened me, they did this and that.” And these are the ones we know about. How many more are there that we don’t?

‘It’s about time we looked beyond the façade and glitz and glamour of Dubai, and questioned what’s really going on.’

Randa al-Banna interview: ‘Our baby is now in her forties. The emir still won’t let me near’

The first wife of Dubai’s ruler says she was kicked out of the country when her marriage ended in the 1970s — and hasn’t seen her daughter since

Louise Callaghan
December 22, 2019, The Sunday Times

When Randa al-Banna met the prince, she had no idea who he was. It was 1972, she was 16 years old and she had just been expelled from a convent school in Beirut after scandalising the nuns with her naughtiness. Instead of reciting the catechism, she was whiling away the summer going to the beach and spending her nights dancing to the Bee Gees.

The vivacious Lebanese teenager was at a party in Beirut when she was introduced to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prince of Dubai — a wealthy desert kingdom she had never heard of. After a brief courtship they were married and embarked on a life of private jets, champagne and parties at Tramp nightclub in London.

It would last only four years before Banna was back in Beirut — divorced, penniless and forcibly separated from her baby daughter. Now, at 64, she has come forward for the first time to tell the story of herself and the sheikh, now the ruler of Dubai, a close friend of the Queen and a regular at Ascot.

Her life has been extraordinary by any standards. After fleeing marriage into one of the richest royal courts in the Middle East, she was abducted and forced into another marriage by a fighter in the Lebanese civil war.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in the drawing room of a London hotel, Banna, dripping in jewels and majestically glamorous, told a story of deep unhappiness.

She revealed how she has spent decades desperately trying to make contact with her daughter, Manal, who is now in her forties.

Of Sheikh Mohammed, she said: “He is not an easy man. He is not. He is very stubborn. If he flips, he flips. I stayed away. I took my decision. I can’t see [Manal] now . . . I don’t know how she looks. I don’t know. I’m not allowed because I am the one who wanted to leave. So my punishment is that I don’t see her.

“[Sheikh Mohammed] deprived me of seeing my daughter, living my grandmother life. He’s not giving me the chance to go and see my grandchildren, the school of my grandchildren. This is unfair, really unfair — all this because I took the decision of leaving, being free. You wonder why it is that I wanted my freedom. Look what it’s costing me.”

She also told of how she was beaten and almost killed by an unknown assailant just before she was due to travel secretly to Dubai to attend Manal’s wedding. She bears a heavy scar from the incident.

Her claims follow recent, rare breaches of the Dubai royal family’s tightly closed world — including a custody battle with Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife, Princess Haya, in the London courts.

For decades, Banna has kept the Maktoum family’s secrets in the hope that by staying silent she would be allowed to see her daughter, who grew up to be one of the most prominent women in the Middle East and is now married to Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

She finally decided to tell her story, she said, after hearing of the alleged kidnap and abuse of Shamsa and Latifa, two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters from later marriages, after they attempted to escape from the family. Both are believed to be in the emirates under heavy guard.

Sheikh Mohammed, through his representatives, has not taken up an invitation to comment.

Sheikh Mohammed with Manal, his daughter with Banna

Today Banna is in poor health and extremely concerned that she, or her other children from later marriages, may face retaliation for speaking out. She has spent more than a decade putting together her memoirs, which she hopes to publish.

More than anything, she says, she wants her daughter to know that she loves her — and that she did not want to leave her behind all those years ago.

In 1972 it all looked very different. Then, the 16-year-old Banna — pleased to have been dismissed from her dull convent school, where she was regularly punished by being forced to kneel on two olives — was dancing at a friend’s engagement party.

“Lebanon was the Switzerland of the Middle East,” she said, taking a puff on an e-cigarette. “Life was so easy going to the beach.”

A young man interrupted her dancing to tell her that the son of the ruler of Dubai wanted to speak to her. Banna wasn’t impressed. The daughter of a Lebanese politician, she had never heard of Dubai and thought the prince’s royal name too long to remember.

“I said, ‘If he wants to talk to me he can come to me,’ ” she said. “I wanted to dance and he was disturbing me.”

After a while the prince came over to talk and they spoke briefly. Two days later he was at her parents’ house, with an enormous entourage, asking for her hand in marriage.

Her family were unsure at first, but after a few months of speaking on the phone, Banna was falling in love with him. They signed an Islamic marriage contract and her life changed for ever. “He was nice. He was good-looking back then. I don’t know. I was . . . I was stupid, you know. He showed me a life that I didn’t think exists like this,” she said. “For someone my age, it was something.”

The young couple lived in London for some time, before travelling to Dubai, where Banna, a Beiruti Francophone sophisticate, was unimpressed by the lack of amenities and the Bedouin culture to which her husband was so attached.

He wrote her screeds of poetry in classical Arabic, none of which she understood. His family insisted that she change her name — which they saw as too European — to Haifa.

“When we went to his country, he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? There’s nothing.’ It was desert,” she said.

Her outspokenness upset him. “I couldn’t keep anything inside me. I didn’t think, like, ‘You’re talking to a royal, you have to behave’.”

Despite this, they were in love. They partied at their friends’ houses and at Dubai’s one hotel. When she realised she was pregnant, they were both overjoyed. She was 18 years old and gloriously happy when she gave birth to her daughter.

Soon it would all come crashing down. On a short visit to her family in Beirut soon after Manal’s birth, she was told of an alleged incident involving the sheikh that had occurred during her pregnancy. He denied it but Banna demanded a divorce.

Today she does not know the truth of what had happened. But then, young and furious, she ended up back in Beirut — blocked, she said, from bringing five-month-old Manal with her.

“It was very hard,” she said. “Since then, I lost my family. I didn’t want to talk to any one of them. I lost him, I lost my house, I lost my daughter, I lost my dignity, I lost my pride. I lost everything. I paid the price of love.”

That was not the only life-changing moment. Lebanon was sinking into political violence and civil war. One day at a checkpoint in Beirut she was kidnapped. Her abductor, a “very handsome” but abusive militia leader, forced his beautiful captive into marriage.

Her extraordinary life with him over the following years, as she described it, ranged from the tempestuous to the outright brutal. She bore him two children but he often threatened to kill her, she said, and shot her in the leg for putting her feet on the table.

Once, he cut off her long hair because another man had praised it. Whenever she asked for a divorce, he would tell her that the only way she would leave was in a coffin.

“He would always take out 60 [Lebanese] lira and wave it at me and say, ‘There, that’s your divorce — that’s how much it would cost me to bury you,’ ” she said.

After the civil war, which ended in 1990, she says she got her revenge. She denounced her husband to the authorities and offered information on the location of arms caches. They raided the properties and arrested him.

In return, she said, she and her two children by the militia leader were allowed safe passage to Italy, where she lives today. On her way to the airport in Beirut, she stopped off at the prison where he had been locked up.

“I told the guard, ‘I want to see my husband. Please bring him out — I want to see him,’ ” she said, luxuriating in the memory. “When he came, I took out 60 lira and I threw it at him. I said, ‘You might need this now.’ ” He was assassinated a few years later.

Sheikh Mohammed, she said, had helped to pay for a lawyer for her divorce from her second husband. Once she was free, she renewed her efforts to contact Manal, begging the sheikh to let them meet. She claims he repeatedly made promises that were not fulfilled.

“We stayed in contact because I always wanted to check on her. He promised me, ‘I will bring her — I will let you see her. You will see her in Harrods at Christmas. No, we couldn’t make it. Let’s make it on Easter. Let’s make it in Eid.’ Promises. A life has gone. All life,” she said.

She said the sheikh had given her a photo of Manal as a toddler, the only picture she had of her daughter. Years later, she realised it wasn’t of Manal at all but of another of his children.

“I loved a photo that wasn’t of my daughter. I knew her. I hugged her,” she said.

In 2000, she and an Italian friend travelled to Dubai and called the sheikh, demanding to see her daughter. He agreed, she claimed, and gave her an address, asking her to come there dressed in her finest clothes.

That night, she said, she went to meet the sheikh at an event to mark the end of the Dubai air show, attended by thousands of people.

Interviewed at her London hotel, Banna told a story of deep unhappiness

“I said, ‘Where is she?’ ” Banna recalled. “He said, ‘Inside. Try to recognise her. I’m going to see the instinct of the mother.’ ”

Banna searched the hall for her daughter, looking among the hundreds of women, but concluded she was not there. The next day Banna left Dubai and has, she says, been banned from the country since then.

“Do you know what is the reason of my ban?” she said. “I am dangerous to security. Me, the mother of his daughter. Imagine.”

Undeterred, she tried to return to Dubai in 2005 for Manal’s wedding — planning to travel incognito in the entourage of a friend, a Saudi princess. But just days before she was set to leave, she was attacked in Beirut by a man wielding a baseball bat.

The brutal assault was another life- altering moment. A long wound, starting by her temple and going back over her skull, took 27 stitches to close. Four of her vertebrae were broken.

When she woke up, she said, the sheikh was at her bedside — giving his condolences and offering to pay for her treatment. She was very afraid.

“I said, ‘What did I do to harm you that much?’ He said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re my family. I would never hurt you.’ ”

A metal cage with eight screws was inserted into her torso, and for years afterwards she was forced to use a wheelchair. While her own drama was unfolding, another extraordinary episode was putting the spotlight on the Dubai royal family.

Almost 20 years ago, another of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, Sheikha Shamsa, then a teenager, ran away from the family’s sprawling estate in Surrey. She is thought to have wanted to escape the stultifying strictures of royal life. Instead, she was captured weeks later and sent back to Dubai.

Little more was heard from Shamsa. Last year, however, her story was cast into the spotlight when her younger sister, Latifa, published a video alleging that the pair had been imprisoned and tortured after trying to run away years earlier. Latifa made the video, she said, because she would be trying to escape again. It should be published only if she did not make it to freedom.

In March 2018, Latifa tried to escape Dubai on a yacht, helped by a Finnish friend, Tiina Jauhiainen, and another accomplice. They sailed for days across the Arabian Sea and had almost reached India when, Jauhiainen claims, they were intercepted by Emirati and Indian special forces, who kidnapped Latifa and took her back to Dubai.

The Dubai royal court issued a statement a year ago saying that Latifa was safe at home, and photographs were released showing her with Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and former UN high commissioner for human rights. Latifa has not been heard from since.

For Banna, watching the story unfold from afar, it was too much to bear, and it made her determined to go public herself. “After my story, when I heard [the video released by Latifa before her attempted escape], I was crying. I said, ‘He did it to me too, when I didn’t harm him. All I did was say I cannot continue,’” she said. “When the Latifa story came out I texted him so many times, saying, ‘You’re the father. You can’t do this — she’s a piece of you.’ He never replied.”

David Haigh, a human rights lawyer who represents Latifa, thanked Banna last week for her support. “Latifa’s heart would be lifted to know that so many members of her own family are speaking up and requesting her freedom,” he said.

Banna now fears the repercussions of speaking out. “What did I do to deserve this punishment?” she said.

“If he shows me my daughter, that will repay everything. I just want to hold her in my arms again.”