Concerns grow for whereabouts of Dubai princess following failed escape

May 6, 2018, The Guardian

United Arab Emirates urged to allow Sheikha Latifa ‘contact with outside world’ two months after she was forcibly returned

Concerns are growing for the whereabouts and wellbeing of a daughter of Dubai’s ruler, following reports she was forcibly returned after fleeing United Arab Emirates in March.

Human Rights Watch has said failure to disclose the status of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammad al-Maktoum, 32, could “qualify as an enforced disappearance, given the evidence suggesting that she was last seen as UAE authorities were detaining her”.

Sheikha Latifa, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum appeared in a YouTube video in March announcing she was about to flee. She said her leaving was “the start of me claiming my life, my freedom”. She said in the video her older sister Shamsa also tried to run away in 2000 while on holiday in the UK.

Sheikha Latifa was reported to have escaped Dubai with the help of friends on a yacht owned by Frenchman Hervé Jaubert. The yacht was intercepted on 4 March, less than 50 miles (80km) off the coast of India.

In April it was reported Sheikha Latifa was “brought back” to UAE. On Sunday, UAE officials did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. A source close to the government of Dubai told Reuters that “Latifa is safe and sound with her family” but declined further comment, citing legal considerations.

However, HRW quoted two friends of Sheikha Latifa as saying she had not been seen or heard from for two months.

“UAE authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, confirm her status, and allow her contact with the outside world,” said the HRW Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson. “If she is detained, she needs to be given the rights all detainees should have, including being taken before an independent judge.”

The rights group quoted Finnish national Tiina Jauhiainen, described as a friend of Sheikha Latifa who was one of several foreigners on the boat, as saying the Indian coast guard participated in the raid on the vessel in co-ordination with UAE authorities.

“Men boarded their boat, pointed guns at her, forced her to the ground, and tied her hands behind her back,” Human Rights Watch said. “She said the men kept shouting in English, ‘Who is Latifa?’”

Jauhiainen said on 22 March UAE authorities allowed her to return to Finland and Jaubert, who holds French and American citizenship, to leave the UAE along with the boat’s crew around the same time.