Hannah Lucinda Smith, Istanbul
December 28 2018, The Times
A princess who fled Dubai before being seized from a yacht by armed men and returned to the ruling family is a “troubled young woman” who is receiving psychiatric care, the former Irish president Mary Robinson has said.
Ms Robinson, a former UN human rights commissioner said that Sheikha Latifa, 33, daughter of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 69, was a “troubled young woman who has a medical situation . . . this is a family matter now and she is in the loving care of her family”.
The princess attempted an audacious escape from Dubai in March, crossing into Oman before travelling to a yacht in international waters by dinghy and jet ski. In a video made shortly before the attempt she claimed that she had been imprisoned and tortured by her family after trying to leave aged 16. “If it doesn’t work maybe this video can help me, because all my father cares about is his reputation,” she said. “He would kill to protect his own reputation.”
Commandos raided the yacht and returned the princess to Dubai and she had not been seen again until this week, when Ms Robinson visited her at the invitation of Princess Haya, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s two wives.
Photographs released by the UAE’s foreign ministry showed a smiling Ms Robinson sitting in a small kitchen next to the subdued princess, dressed in a casual hooded top. The ministry then sent a message to the UN high commissioner’s office following Ms Robinson’s visit, denying “false allegations” about the princess’s disappearance.
Ms Robinson’s own statements have echoed the UAE’s official line that the princess was tricked and kidnapped for ransom. “The dilemma was that Latifa is vulnerable, she is troubled, she made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape,” Ms Robinson told Radio 4’s Today programme. “It’s part of circumstances that I think need to be examined because immediately there was a demand note for $300 million and then she was taken off the boat and is now in the care of her family. She is receiving psychiatric care.”
The lengths to which Sheikha Latifa had gone to escape were shown in a BBC documentary. She had contacted Hervé Jaubert, a former French spy and naval officer who escaped the emirate by dressing in a burka and then scuba-diving into international waters.
Tiina Jauhiainen, the princess’s Finnish martial arts instructor and confidante, drove with her across the border into Oman, where they were picked up by dinghy and jet-skied to Mr Jaubert’s yacht. A week later the vessel was raided off Goa and the princess taken away.
Since leaving office, Ms Robinson has spoken at conferences organised by the UAE, often trumpeting women’s rights in the conservative states, and has known Princess Haya since 2007.
Radha Stirling, of human rights campaign group Detained in Dubai, said that Ms Robinson’s BBC interview was “essentially reciting” Dubai’s story and ignored everything the princess had said of her alleged ill-treatment. “The same lucid and determined woman seen in the video . . . is now being presented as mentally disturbed and vulnerable and being provided with “psychiatric care,” he said.