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Disclose whereabouts of runaway princess, HRW demands Dubai ruler

A still from Sheikha Latifa's video on her escape attempt [Detained in Dubai via AP]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2018

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The rights group has sounded alarm over the disappearance of Dubai's Sheikha Latifa, who has not been seen in two months since her attempt to flee the country was thwarted.
Leading rights group Human Rights Watch has demanded Emirati authorities reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa bin Mohammad al-Maktoum, the princess who allegedly tried to escape the country after revealing rampant torture and abuse at the hands of her father, the country's prime minister and vice president.

Sheikha Latifa, 32, has not been seen or heard from for two months, after the boat she was trying to flee Dubai on was intercepted by Emirati authorities and she was "brought back" to the kingdom, according to reports.

The royal's friends and family are deeply concerned for her safety, suspecting that she is being detained by her alleged abusers she was attempting to escape.

"UAE authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, confirm her status, and allow her contact with the outside world," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"If she is detained she needs to be given the rights all detainees should have, including being taken before an independent judge."

The rights group has also collected a series of accounts given by Sheikha Latifa's close friends, one of whom, Tiina Jauhiainen, was present during the escape attempt. Jauhiainen details the violent operation carried out by Emirati commandos in conjunction with the Indian coastguard to apprehend Sheikha Latifa.

Both the Emirati and Indian authorities have declined to comment publicly about Sheikha Latifa since reports of her dissapearance.

"The UAE authorities should immediately reveal whether they are detaining Sheikha Latifa and her whereabouts and that of all others they are detaining incommunicado," Whitson said.

Latifa's plight came to light after campaign group Detained in Dubai, which works on behalf of people caught up in the UAE's legal system, released a 40-minute video in which Latifa describes how she and her sister were held virtual prisoners by the family. The video was supposed to be made public if her escape attempt failed.

"I'm making this video because it could be the last video I make," Latifa said in a haunting vlog, in which she added: "If you are watching the video, it's not such a good thing - either I'm dead or I'm in a very, very, very bad situation."

She explains her story of being jailed after trying to free her sister, Shamsa, who has allegedly been held captive for 16 years at the request of their father after she tried to run away to London. After Shamsa's detention in 2002, Latifa wanted to free her older sister, she said.

Latifa, then 16, attempted to escape the UAE but was caught at the border, which led to her being imprisoned and tortured at her father's orders, she claimed.

"I think the first time was torturing me, I didn't feel any pain because I was in so much shock," she said, adding that Mohammed al-Maktoum ordered her torturers to beat her to death. Despite surviving the torture, she suffered mental health problems, she said.

The plan for Latifa's escape attempt in March was to sail to Goa, then travel to Mumbai ahead of a flight to the United States, where she intended to claim political asylum.

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