In March 2018, Finnish Tiina Jauhiainen was attacked in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Since then, she has dedicated her daily life to defend the rights of Princess Latifa al-Maktoum of Dubai.
Latifa al-Maktoum had not left Dubai for 18 years. Not because she didn’t want to. She had no passport, let alone permission to travel. She couldn’t even visit the homes of her friends, nor leave her father’s palace without a guard.
Tiina Jauhiainen has always loved traveling and has lived most of her life abroad. Born in Iisalm in 1976, Jauhiainen went to high school in her hometown, but left immediately after to become an au pair in San Diego, California. From there she moved to London to study, and after many twists and turns ended up in Dubai.
Against all odds, these two women became inseparable friends whose first trip together became worldwide news.
At the turn of the 21st century, Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, was an ideal tourism destination. In a place where summer is year round, tourism grew rapidly. That’s also why Jauhiainen came to work there.
“It was supposed to be a gap year. I returned from Dubai to London, but it didn’t feel the same anymore. I decided to move to Dubai and lived there for 17 years,” she recalls.
Over the years, Jauhiainen worked in the tourism industry, as a real estate agent and as a personal trainer. As the years went by, the new home changed. In the past, Jauhiainen could go to the beach in the evenings with friends, light a fire and enjoy a few beers. Today, there may be problems in Dubai, for example, because of public affection.
“Nowadays, there are only rules after rules, you don’t dare to do anything. In Dubai, you may get in trouble for just about anything, even Facebook posts, ”Jauhiainen says.
“During those years, there was quite a change in thinking.”
It all started with capoeira
Jauhiainen became acquainted with Latifa in 2010, when the princess sent her an email. Latifa wanted Jauhiainen to give her private capoeira classes. The busy Jauhiainen had no time for private lessons and she became frustrated with the stubborn woman’s messages.
“I wondered why she wouldn’t give up. I hoped she would find someone else,” Jauhiainen laughs.
Eventually, the princess got her way. Her identity was revealed to Jauhiainen only during the first private lesson.
“At first, the hours were tense. I felt terribly under pressure to prepare a program in advance. However, Latifa was really down to earth, she was not snobbish in any way,” Jauhiainen describes.
Even though Latifa insisted that Jauhiainen give her private lessons, getting to know the princess took years.
“It was a long time before she was able to open up and trust me. It was hard to understand why she avoided eye contact and was so reserved. In retrospect, I realize that it was due to the kind of life she has lived. “
Eventually Latifa asked Tiina to be a full-time employee. Jauhiainen stopped her other work and spent all her time with the princess.
“Video Saved Us”
It may be difficult for an outsider to understand what kind of life Latifa lived, and why she was not allowed to leave Dubai. According to Jauhiainen, there are many reasons. One of them is the role of women in the United Arab Emirates. If one woman manages to escape and leave, it could serve as an example to others.
“The second reason is that Latifa knows all about about her father’s dirty laundry. She knows how many people her father has killed and how people have been treated. ”
“The only thing Latifa’s father cares about is his reputation. Her story could lead to books and movies, and he fears that. The risks are so great that it’s easier to keep Latifa in jail,” Jauhiainen claims.
Latifa planned her escape for a long time. First, she contacted the French-American Hervé Jaubert, who had claimed to have already successfully escaped – the man had previously fled from Dubai with an inflatable boat, dressed as a woman. Later, Latifa also revealed her plan to Tiina.
“When she first asked me to help her escape, I just thought it was great – we’ll finally get to go on a journey together!” Jauhiainen laughs.
“I was really excited about the escape. I wasn’t particularly worried or scared, even though Hervé stressed that it would be really difficult.”
In case the escape would fail, Latifa recorded a video in which she told everything about her life. She talked about her father’s atrocities and what her fate would be if she were caught on the run. Latifa emphasized in the video that she wanted to escape from her family and was not kidnapped.
“Without that video we would all be in captivity or worse. They would have accused us of kidnapping. The video saved us,” Jauhiainen says.
The human rights work took with her
The unsuccessful escape changed Jauhiainen’s everyday life. At the moment, she is currently living in London again, because Dubai is no longer safe.
“If I went back there, I probably wouldn’t be heard from again. Before I was released, I had to make video confession of my crimes. I had to sign a confession in Arabic and a list of things I can’t do,” Jauhiainen says.
Now she is likely to have violated every agreement she has signed.
“This is a very personal issue for them. I was told that I stabbed Dubai’s ruler in the back. It’s much worse than, for example, a broken business contract. In their opinion, I have done worst thing possible.”
After the escape, Jauhiainen has focused on finding out Latifa’s situation. Human rights work has taken over, and Jauhiainen has also received a lot of feedback on it.
“People thank me for what I do, because they feel that I am not only helping Latifa but all women. It’s been encouraging,” Jauhiainen smiles.
Jauhiainen has had to get used to publicity. When a documentary about Latifa was released in the UK, tens of millions of Britons listened to Jauhiainen’s radio interview. She has also visited, among other things, the BBC’s live broadcast, spoken at conferences and given interviews with the press around the world.
“I would have gladly stayed completely out of the spotlight,” Jauhiainen says with embarrassment.
“Latifa said to me, that I will stand up to the public, because this will be huge news. I was laughing that this was yours and your family’s affair, this does not apply to me. But here we are now,” she laughs.
Despite the media attention, Jauhiainen feels that it is difficult to get real help.
“It is annoying that this can happen in 2018. It’s difficult to get anyone to help, we’ll stay in the news with others.”
“She wanted to help others”
The latest images of Latifa were seen in December 2018, nine months after the attempted escape. At that time, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN Human Rights Commissioner, visited Dubai and met for a brief lunch with the ruling family.
Robinson is an old friend of the Dubai ruling family. The family released photos of the visit, where Robinson appeared in a good mood, while appearing alongside Latifa. Later, Robinson gave interviews in which she described Latifa as vulnerable and claimed that the princess regretted both the escape attempt and the video she recorded.
Frank Johansson , Executive Director of Amnesty International’s Finnish Department, considers the photos and Robinson’s comments outrageous.
“Is it supposed that Latifa would say goodbye to her family, whose ‘golden cage’ she is trying to escape?,” Johansson asks.
“On the basis of the visit, it seems more and more important that independent experts get to meet Latifa without the presence of the family and that Latifa should have the freedom she wants. You’d think a 33-year-old woman would decide for herself where she wants to live and with whom, but that’s not the case in Dubai.”
Now Tiina Jauhiainen hopes that Latifa’s story will have a happy ending. As long as there is no information about Latifa’s whereabouts, Jauhiainen feels obliged to defend her rights.
“I want to think that even though this was so unpleasant, it was Latifa’s will. She wanted to help others through her own story,” Jauhiainen says.
“That’s why I’ve found that I need to get rid of the stage fright, so that I can continue this work. After all, I’m the only one who is able to do this.”