International pressure was building Wednesday on the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to provide a full accounting of his daughter Princess Latifa’s health and whereabouts.
Latifa recorded a series of videos, broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday, in which she told how she has spent several years locked inside a villa without access to sunlight or fresh air while under constant police guard.
She is believed to be held on the orders of her father, who is the prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, as well as being the absolute ruler of the emirate of Dubai.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Wednesday that people “will want to see that she is alive and well” after the mobile phone videos made by the princess were screened on the BBC. The princess made videos in which she told how she was abducted from a yacht by UAE security forces during a failed escape attempt in 2018, and claimed she was being imprisoned inside a guarded building with bars on the windows.
However, Raab added that Britain would not simply be able to “slap sanctions” on the UAE, which buys a huge quantity of British arms and is seen as a key intelligence partner in the region. Dubai is also a popular holiday destination for British travelers.
Complicating matters further, Al Maktoum is a personal friend of the queen. They share a passionate interest in horses. He has regularly joined her in the Royal Box at the prestigious British racing festival, Royal Ascot.
The queen has, however, distanced herself from the sheikh after a damning British court judgment last year. The custody and divorce proceeding was brought by his ex-wife, Princess Haya, 45, a half-sister of King Abdullah of Jordan, who fled Dubai with two of their children, saying she was in fear of her life. She now lives in a $100 million mansion in west London with her two youngest children.
The court found that Al Maktoum, who issued several verses of florid poetry denouncing Haya as treacherous after she reportedly had an affair with her bodyguard, had organized the abductions of not just Latifa but also another daughter, Princess Shamsa, who is believed to be detained in similar circumstances to her sister's. She is understood to have been abducted from the British city of Cambridge in 2000, and there have been persistent allegations that the Foreign Office blocked the investigation of Shamsa’s abduction to preserve political relations with the mercurial sheikh, who is believed to have at least 30 children.
In a 2018 video, Latifa said that Shamsa was being “confined to one room and constantly supervised by nurses and a psychiatrist” while being given medications that she believed were designed “to control her mind.”
Latifa and Shamsa are both children of the sheikh’s first official wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum al-Maktoum. She lives on an estate in Longcross, Surrey, in absolute privacy and has never been seen in public, The Times reports.
Their eldest son, heir-apparent Rashid, died in 2015 of causes that were never made public, but he was widely rumored to have a drug problem.
In the new series of videos, screened by the BBC Tuesday, Latifa, 35, gave a terrifying account of how her 2018 escape from UAE was thwarted when the yacht she was fleeing on was boarded by commandos who beat and drugged her before forcibly repatriating her.
Latifa said, “I am a hostage and this villa has been converted into a jail.”
She said she was making the video in the bathroom of the villa, the only room she could lock herself into, adding, “All the windows are barred shut, I can’t open any window.”
She said she had been threatened with being shot unless she cooperates with official statements issued by her father.
The United Nations has now also said it will press for answers.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told The Irish Times, “We will certainly raise these new developments with the UAE.”
Colville said other parts of the UN human rights system “may also become involved once they have analyzed the new material or received specific allegations.”
UN human rights envoy and former Irish president Mary Robinson told the BBC she had been “horribly tricked” when she met Princess Latifa ten months after the abduction.
She was photographed sitting next to Latifa and told BBC Radio 4 that the princess was a “troubled young woman” who regretted planning the escape.
In the new videos, Latifa condemned Robinson, saying, “She said that I was a troubled young woman and I had a serious medical condition and I was getting help for it,” she said. “That’s implying that I have psychiatric problems. She knew that I was OK. She lied and it was all a set-up.”
Robinson has now called for international action to establish Latifa’s condition and whereabouts. “I continue to be very worried about Latifa,” she said. “I think it should be investigated.”