Lawyer for missing Dubai princess urges UAE to release her

LONDON (AP) — The attorney for a daughter of Dubai’s ruler urged the Gulf emirate to release the woman from almost three years of detention and avoid further international scandal after a videotaped plea for freedom spurred the UN’s human rights body to seek information about her status.

The case of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum made international headlines Tuesday after the BBC released excerpts from video diaries she said were recorded in a locked bathroom inside the Dubai villa where she is being held. Sheikha Latifa was detained by commandos off the coast of India in 2018 after she tried to flee Dubai in a yacht.

Sheikha Latifa, 35, hasn’t been heard from since she stopped responding to text messages six months ago, friends told the BBC. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the hereditary ruler of Dubai who also serves as prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates

Rodney Dixon, a London-based attorney for Sheikha Latifa, played down calls for international sanctions, saying he hopes the videos will persuade authorities in Dubai to release his client. Dixon helped secure the release of a British researcher who was jailed in the UAE on spying charges in 2018.

“Of course, steps can be taken to, as I’ve said before, look to impose sanctions, take other actions,” Dixon told The Associated Press. “But why go down that route when we have a simple solution here which should be followed right away. Why protract it any longer, getting involved in legal avenues, litigation? This never ultimately benefits anyone over the long term. Better to sort it out right now and do the right thing.”

The case is particularly sensitive in Britain because of economic and historic links to Dubai and the UAE, which has large reserves of oil and natural gas.

Sheikh Mohammed is the founder of the successful Godolphin horse-racing stable and is on friendly terms with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

The secretive ruler’s family life was thrust into the news in 2019, when his estranged wife, Princess Haya, fled to London and sought custody of her two children through the British courts. Last year, a British judge ruled the sheikh had conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against Princess Haya and had ordered the abduction of two of his daughters, including Sheikha Latifa.

Sheikha Latifa’s former personal trainer told the BBC that her friend recorded the video diaries on a phone that was smuggled to her about a year after her detention.

In the videos the princess says she is “worried about my safety and my life.”

“They want propaganda from me. They wanted me to do a video and say that I’m here happily and voluntarily. And I refused,’’ she said in a video obtained by The Associated Press. “I don’t know what can happen to me and how long this will last. And if they decide to release me, like how my life would be. But I’m not safe at all.”

Marcus Essabri, a cousin who lives in England, told the BBC that the videos stopped about six months ago and there had been no word from Latifa since then.

“I fear they caught her with the phone, and now I am fearful for her safety,” he said.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Wednesday that it would “raise these new developments with the UAE.”

“Other parts of the UN human rights system with relevant mandates may also become involved once they have analyzed the new material or received specific allegations,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the high commissioner, told the BBC.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the videos “very distressing” and said he supported a U.N. investigation. Raab said Britain was “concerned,” but suggested there was little the government could do because Latifa is not a U.K. national.

Sheikh Mohammed and the Dubai royal court have said Latifa is safe in the loving care of her family. The UAE government’s Dubai Media Office did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

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Jill Lawless in London contributed to this story.

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