Videos secretly recorded by Princess Latifa, a daughter of Dubai's ruler, have been obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme. She sent them to friends after her failed escape attempt from the Middle East emirate in 2018.
Twenty years ago, her sister Princess Shamsa, also tried to escape the ruling family, while staying in the UK. The governments of Dubai and the UAE have failed to respond to requests for comment from the BBC about Latifa's current condition.
The story so far
Princess Latifa’s older sister Shamsa escapes while on holiday with other members of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s family at their Surrey estate. The sheikh launches a search for her, but doesn’t inform the police – his men track her down in Cambridge over a month later.
In an email to her solicitor, Shamsa says she was bundled into a car by four Arab men and driven to her father’s house in Newmarket, where she was injected and given tablets. The next morning, she is flown back to Dubai on a private plane.
Latifa makes her first escape attempt aged 16. She tries to get across the border of UAE and Oman but is caught and brought back to Dubai, where she is jailed for three years and four months. She says she was kept in solitary confinement and tortured.
Latifa meets Tiina Jauhiainen, a fitness instructor hired to teach her a Brazilian martial art called capoeira. They become close friends. Latifa’s movements are restricted - she’s not allowed to have a passport, drive or leave Dubai.
Latifa contacts Herve Jaubert, a French businessman who years before had successfully escaped Dubai after being convicted in absentia of embezzlement. Over the next few years, they plan her escape in detail and Tiina Jauhiainen is enlisted as an aide and go-between.
Latifa records a video documenting her life and plans. She calls it a “just in case” video and sends it to a group of trusted people with instructions to publish it if the escape fails. It details the restrictions she is under in Dubai, her first escape attempt and her plan to leave Dubai and claim asylum.
Latifa and Ms Jauhiainen meet early in the morning and take a 26-mile trip by inflatable boat and jet ski to international waters, where Mr Jaubert is waiting in a US flagged yacht. They plan to head to India, from where Latifa hopes to fly to the United States and claim political asylum.
Eight days into the journey, just off the coast of India, the boat is boarded by Indian special forces. Latifa and Ms Jauhiainen hide in the bathroom, but smoke grenades make it hard for them to breathe and they make their way to the top of the deck, where they are held at gunpoint. Latifa is dragged off the boat. Ms Jauhiainen and the crew are detained in a high security facility in the UAE before being released two weeks later.
The anti-UAE pressure group Detained in Dubai release her video and Ms Jauhiainen begins to tell her story to the world.
The day before the release of a BBC documentary telling the story of Latifa’s escape attempt, the government of Dubai publishes a statement saying that Latifa and her sister Shamsa are “adored and cherished" by the family. They say that Latifa is now "safe in Dubai" and is celebrating her birthday "in privacy and peace”.
The UAE Foreign Ministry releases three photos of Latifa from a 15 December lunch with one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, and Mary Robinson, a former UN human rights commissioner. This is the first time anyone has seen Latifa since the failed escape.
Three days later, Mary Robinson appears on the BBC’s Today Programme where says she was asked to visit Latifa by Princess Haya. She describes Latifa as a “troubled young woman" who is receiving "psychiatric care.”
She immediately receives pushback from the international human rights community and campaign groups accuse her of pedalling the “Dubai line”.
Tiina Jauhiainen receives a message from a stranger claiming to be in contact with Latifa. After Ms Jauhiainen passes a number of security questions, she begins direct communication with Latifa and manages to get a phone to her.
Latifa begins recording video messages in which she describes the conditions she is being kept in: solitary confinement, the windows barred shut and no daylight.
In the months after they establish phone contact, Ms Jauhiainen, her lawyer David Haigh, and her maternal cousin Marcus Essabri have daily contact with Latifa.
On the 15 April, Princess Haya, the second “official wife” of Sheikh Mohammed, escapes Dubai to the UK with her two children, reportedly in fear of her life. Haya, who became the Sheikh’s sixth wife in April 2004, is his only spouse with a public profile, and is often seen with him at events around the world.
Sheikh Mohammed starts proceedings in the UK court to have his two children with Princess Haya returned to Dubai. Princess Haya applies for her children to become Wards of Court as well as a forced marriage protection order and non-molestation order.
The High Court in the UK releases a fact-finding judgment which finds that on the balance of probabilities, Sheikh Mohammed was responsible for the abduction and forced return of both Shamsa and Latifa to Dubai. The judge rules that the sheikh has waged a campaign of intimidation towards Haya and that he has not been open and honest with the court.
David Haigh realises the messages to Latifa are not getting through. Contact with her is lost.
In her first interview since the pictures of her and Latifa were released in 2018, Mary Robinson says that Princess Haya and her were tricked by the sheikh, and that she is deeply worried about Latifa. She says she was blindsided when the UAE released the photographs of her and Latifa, and she admits that she regrets not seeing Latifa on her own, or asking her about her condition.
UK police are passed a letter written by Latifa in 2019 urging them to re-investigate the kidnap of her sister Shamsa from a Cambridge street in August 2000. Cambridgeshire Police said the letter would be “looked at as part of the ongoing review” into the incident.