An Emirati princess who has been missing since being forcibly detained while fleeing her home country nine months ago is back in Dubai, according to a statement from the government.
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the daughter of the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has not been heard from since she was seized from a boat off the coast of India in March by what witnesses said were armed men.
Rights groups believe the princess was detained by UAE authorities while trying to escape the country. Before leaving Dubai, she recorded a video that was later posted to YouTube in which she detailed her plan to flee. In it, she expressed concerns about her father, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
“I’m making this video because it could be the last video I make,” she said, adding that her leaving was “the start of me claiming my life, my freedom”.
“Pretty soon I’m going to be leaving somehow and I’m not so sure of the outcome, but I’m 99 per cent positive it will work. And, if it doesn’t, then this video can help me because all my father cares about is his reputation,” she said.
Ms Maktoum, who turned 33 on Wednesday, has not been heard from since, and Dubai authorities have not commented on her whereabouts until today. A statement released on Thursday by Dubai Ruler’s Court said the princess “is now safe in Dubai.”
"We are aware and deeply saddened by the continued media speculation regarding Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al Maktoum. This private family matter has caused significant upset and distress for all concerned, most of all Sheikha Latifa," the statement said.
The statement was released ahead of the release of a BBC documentary about the princess in which friends say the princess had planned her escape for seven years. The UAE's ambassador to the UK, Sulaiman Almazroui, said the BBC had "not done its homework" and that one of the sources for the programme was "not a reliable witness." The BBC told The Independent: “We stand by our journalism and interviewed a wide range of people relevant to the story."
But a law firm acting on behalf of the princess said the statement from authorities in Dubai “offers no explanation as to why she felt compelled to release a lengthy video begging for help.”
Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers added that there was also no explanation for why “individuals who helped her in her plight were arbitrarily detained and tortured for their involvement in her escape, nor do they offer any explanation as to why she has remained hidden from the view of the public.”
In May, Human Rights Watch called on the UAE to “immediately reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, confirm her status, and allow her contact with the outside world.”
“If she is detained she needs to be given the rights all detainees should have, including being taken before an independent judge,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
In the YouTube video recorded by Ms Maktoum, and uploaded after she went missing, she said she tried to escape to Oman in 2002, but was caught at the border and returned to Dubai, where she was detained for three years.
Her law firm said she was “in the process of escaping what she considered the oppressive and authoritarian influence of her father’s regime.”
The statement from Dubai authorities, released on Wednesday, was “merely a public relations exercise given the significant audience that the coming programme is likely to attract, it does not address any of the allegations made,” the law firm said.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn, is that Sheikha Latifa remains detained against her will.”