news

'If you're watching this... I'm either dead, or in a very bad situation.' The princess who tried to escape Dubai.

Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai in 18 years before her escape.

She had requested to travel and study abroad, but wasn’t allowed. She was not to go anywhere without a chauffeur and was forbidden to visit her friends apartments or have her friends come visit her at home – in Dubai’s Zabeel Palace and other royal residences.

So when Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum II, daughter of the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum sent her friends a WhatsApp message stating she had left Dubai for good, they were in utter disbelief.

As reported by the New York Times, Princess Latifa told them she was free and that she would come see them soon.

Her freedom, aided by her Finnish martial arts teacher Tiina Jauhiainen and former French spy Hervé Jaubert, was shortlived.

Less than a week later she was seized by armed men from a yacht off the coast of India, destroying her escape plan and crushing all hope for freedom.

Dubai denied she fled ill-treatment in her homeland and she was returned to them. Her social media accounts were shut down and she has not spoken or been seen publicly since.

In December, as the BBC planned to air a documentary about her, Dubai’s royal court released a statement that claimed the Princess was safe in Dubai.

It also alleged she had not tried to escape Dubai, but had been kidnapped.

The statement did little to quell fears that Princess Latifa is safe – largely due to a video released just before her capture.

In the 39-minute video Princess Latifa’s face and voice are clear. There is no denying she is who she says she is.

“I am making this video because it could be the last video I make,” she started.

“If [my escape] doesn’t [work] then this video can help me because all my father cares about is his reputation. He will kill people to protect his own reputation. He only cares about himself and his ego so this video could save my life.

She explained that when she was 14, her older sister Shamsa escaped from her family’s security during a trip to England, wanting more freedom.

She was found after two months, with news reports from the time reporting she was forced into a car in Cambridge. Latifa said Shamsa was drugged and brought back to Dubai.

When Scotland Yard investigated her case as a kidnapping, Dubai authorities denied them the chance to interview Shamsa.

In her video, Princess Latifa recounted many stories of alleged capture and torture of women – including her own torture following an earlier attempt to escape when she was 16. She was imprisoned for three years.

Her claims, a far cry from the tolerant public image Dubai tries to portray, reminded the world that behind the opulence and skyscrapers is a conservative, restrictive regime.

“All of this public image that [my father] is trying to portray, human rights, it’s bullshit. He’s the most evil person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s pure evil. There’s nothing good in him,” Princess Latifa said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Her second escape attempt was years in the making. She was hopeful it would work.

On the morning of her escape, she and martial arts instructor Jauhiainen travelled to Oman via car, then used an inflatable raft and jet skis to travel to the yacht of former French spy Jaubert.

Princess Latifa and Tiina Jauhiainen
Princess Latifa and Tiina Jauhiainen smiled as they drove across the UAE border to Oman. Image: Twitter.

They sailed towards India. On the evening of March 4, 2018 they heard loud noises. Indian and Emirati men had boarded the boat and were beating and tying up those on board, according the Jauhiainen.

Princess Latifa screamed that she was seeking political asylum in India. She begged not to be taken back to Dubai.

An Arabic-speaking man boarded the boat and then, she was gone.

Other than a photo released by her family in December, which showed the Princess with former Irish President Mary Robinson, Princess Latifa has not been seen since.

Her family claimed she was a a troubled woman with a serious medical condition, according the Robinson.

Friends in Dubai are reportedly too scared to speak.

In a statement to Sky News, the princess’ lawyers said that they are concerned by her family's statement that she was safe.

"If it is that Sheikha Latifa is with her family, and that this is a family matter for which she seeks no public concern, then why is she prevented from communicating this publicly, or to any individual that she considers to be a friend,” they told the publication.

“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Sheikha Latifa remains detained against her will,” they added.

Latifa's fate is unclear, but the Princess herself made an eerie prediction about what would happen to her.

"If you are watching this video it's not such a good thing. Either I'm dead or I'm in a very, very bad situation."

If you or someone you care about is living with family violence please call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

00:00 / ???