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LONDON: 16th February 2021

BBC airs programme featuring exclusive new footage from Latifa in jail as former Irish President admits “I was horribly tricked” by the UAE

The Free Latifa campaign is calling on the President of the United Arab Emirates, for the immediate release of Princess Latifa Al Maktoum following dramatic new developments revealed in a hard-hitting BBC Panorama programme this evening.

The 30-minute special, screened in primetime on the BBCs main national channel, featured powerful footage never seen before that was shot by the Princess from her jail in Dubai where she is being held captive, after Tiina Jauhiainen and David Haigh the co-founders of the Free Latifa campaign managed to smuggle a phone into the jail of the hostage Princess.

Latifa’s lawyer, David Haigh of Detained International, described the documentary and the extraordinary retractions of former Irish Prime Minster Mary Robinson as “a game-changer” and as “a defining moment in our campaign to free Latifa.” He called on UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to order the UAE Vice President and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to release his hostage daughter without further delay and end “a horrendous period of parental and human rights abuse that has significantly damaged the reputation of the UAE and has disgusted the world.”

Latifa Al Maktoum, one of around 30 children of Sheikh Mohammed, has been held captive since her father’s forces combined with Indian commandos to raid a US-registered boat in international waters, in order to kidnap her and bring her back to Dubai.The operation violated international rules and has been condemned by the United Nations.

Princess Latifa was held in a Dubai jail for three months until worldwide publicity, including the BBC’s Newsnight programme and a United Nations investigation, forced the authorities to move her to a prison villa, close to the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa and Dubai’s beaches. Her kidnap and detention have been condemned by leading human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as by the English High Court and the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.

Haigh added: “In the week when the UAE is trying to make headlines for its space programme, as well as trying to build a tolerant country that respects human rights and equality for women, this is a stark reminder that the Gulf state simply cannot be trusted. Not only do we have Latifa’s own evidence of the abuses of her most basic Human Rights, but we also now have the former Irish president and former UN human rights chief telling the world the UAE horribly tricked and misled her over Latifa. Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Al Nahyan (MBZ) should act now and order the UAE vice-president, Latifa’s father, to release Latifa. The international community must not stand silently by now the simple truth that Latifa is a hostage in Dubai, subjected to torture has been confirmed by Latifa herself.”

This new documentary featured dramatic footage of Princess Latifa recorded with the help of Tiina Jauhiainen and David Haigh, the co-founders of the Free Latifa campaign. The campaign worked with the BBC over several months, and the hard-hitting programme features interviews with Tiina Jauhiainen, David Haigh, and Latifa’s cousin Marcus Essabri, as well as Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, who has been assisting the Free Latifa campaign since they managed to contact hostage Latifa.

The programme was aired on BBC1 and will now be broadcast on the BBC’s Arabic service and the global channel BBC World. It is now available online on the BBC I player.

Tiina Jauhiainen said: “This documentary is a defining moment in our campaign to free Latifa. We now look towards the international community and world leaders, such as US President Joe Biden and UN Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to take a strong stance against such grotesque Human Rights abuses by the UAE and call for Latifa to be released.”

David Haigh said: “This BBC documentary is a game-changer, the world must now acts on its collective revulsion at Latifa’s treatment and takes action. We need tourists to decide not to go to Dubai, and we need the world’s leaders to force Sheikh Mohammed to end this grotesque charade and put an end to a horrendous period of parental and human rights abuse that has disgusted the world.

Until Latifa is released, everyone who deals with Dubai and Latifa’s father Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum must now examine their conscience and their activities and decide whether they really want to sup with the devil.

Those doing business with brands like Emirates, Etihad, Jumeirah, Godolphin Racing and others should realise that at the very same time Dubai is holding hostage and torturing brave Latifa. They should realise that they have the power to help end the abuse of Latifa, by simply speaking out and calling on Dubai to free Latifa.

That attractive winter sunshine break in Dubai takes on a different hue when you realise that Latifa is a hostage in Dubai, subjected to torture and other horrific abuses just a few hundred metres from your plush hotel. It’s time every holidaymaker in Dubai, not least all the celebrities and influencers that flocked to Dubai during the COVID19 pandemic help end the abuse of Latifa and tell Dubai no more!”

The most dramatic scenes in the programme featured Latifa recording videos from a toilet in her jail villa. To alert her if anyone entered her bedroom, she had carefully placed a couple of boxes which would make a noise if anyone opened her door.

After giving the date of recording and the world’s top news story on that day for authentication purposes, Latifa said, “I’m in a villa, I’m a hostage, and this villa has been converted into a jail, all the windows have been barred shut, I can’t open any window. There are five police outside and two police inside the house, and I can’t even go out to get any fresh air, no release date, and I don’t know what my conditions will be like after I’m released, so basically I’m a hostage.”

Elsewhere in the programme, Latifa admitted she has been in solitary confinement since her kidnap in March 2018, with “no access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing. They wanted me to do a video and say that I’m here happily and voluntarily, and I refused. Because I wouldn’t cooperate with them, I wouldn’t let them break me, I’m being punished. I don’t know what can happen to me and how long this will last, and if they decide to release me how my life would be. I’m not safe at all.”

Tiina Jauhiainen, a co-founder of the Free Latifa campaign who made the attempted escape from Dubai with Latifa in February 2018 and was kidnapped alongside Princess Latifa, said: “I always knew Latifa would never give up, I knew that somehow, someday she would find a way to contact me. Latifa had managed to get in touch with me in 2019, thanks to a very brave and wonderful individual who helped us.

I can’t put into words how it felt to speak with my friend again after having last seen her been dragged away kicking and screaming by armed Indian and UAE military forces in March 2018.

After the overwhelming feelings of joy and happiness, the reality soon returned, my friend Latifa is a hostage, she is not safe, and we have to free her. David and I immediately set about planning what we needed in terms of evidence and how we could use this contact to secure freedom for Latifa.

There is a limit to what we can say as a lot of people put their lives at risk to help. It was very difficult, dangerous and it took a long time, but eventually, David and I managed to smuggle a phone into the jail and get it to Latifa. We then managed to obtain these, and many more videos, audio recordings, photos and letters, and with them so much evidence, some of which we have now shared with the UN and other law enforcement authorities.”

Late last year, contact with Latifa suddenly stopped, which is why the Free Latifa campaign has now decided to release some of the videos and details of contact with Latifa.

Marcus Essabri, the cousin of Latifa and Princess Shamsa, said: “I will never forget the moment when Tiina and David asked to meet me in London and told me about the contact with Latifa, I was overjoyed. I ask supporters of the Free Latifa campaign to understand why we haven’t been able to say anything until now about the contact we had with Latifa. Simply put it was so very dangerous for everyone involved, most of all my cousin Latifa. A number of people stood to lose an awful lot if we had revealed this too soon, but now the communication with Latifa has been broken, we are gravely worried for her safety and believe this was the right time to release to the media some of the videos Latifa sent us.”

Mary Robinson

Among other revelations in the explosive documentary was Latifa’s version of the highly controversial visit to Dubai by the former Irish president and former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson in December 2018. Robinson allowed herself to be photographed with Latifa and issued statements saying Latifa was “troubled” receiving “psychiatric treatment” and was “safe in the loving care of her family”. On the eve of the documentary being broadcast, Robinson issued a dramatic retraction, claiming she had been “horribly tricked” and “misled” by Dubai and that she was “very worried” about Latifa.

In another video recorded from the toilet, Latifa said she had been invited to lunch by her then stepmother Princess Haya (subsequently divorced from Sheikh Mohammed), and invited to lunch as “a test to see how you will react around people after being in prison for so long. And if you act well, if you react well, you’re going to be out in a few days.”

Haya then said she had invited some friends to join them for lunch: “So she introduced Mary,” Latifa said. “[Haya] never told me Mary was a former UN head of human rights. If I knew that, of course I would have said everything, but no, she never told me … we never discussed me, we never discussed my case. So yeah, it was all a complete lie. Like, I knew something was going on.” After the lunch, Latifa was taken back to her villa where she remains to this day.

The Free Latifa campaign has called on several occasions for Robinson to come clean about her controversial visit two years ago. David Haigh said: “We welcome the latest statement from Mary Robinson admitting she was wrong about Latifa, that she was horribly tricked and misled by the UAE and calling for an investigation. It seems Mary Robinson has finally understood the magnitude of her complicity in Latifa’s kidnap, torture and arbitrary detention. However, Mary Robinsons’ words must now be followed up by action by Robinson; action that must see her trying as hard to secure Latifa’s freedom as she did to take Latifa’s freedom in 2018. I spoke with Latifa countless times about the meeting with and actions by Robinson. Tiina, Marcus and myself now look forward to working with Mary Robinsons to secure Latifa’s freedom.

It will only be if people like Robinson, Theresa May, Ivanka Trump, countless celebrities and the swathes of retired British judges that prop up the Dubai Courts stop allowing themselves to be used to do Dubai’s dirty PR work and washing of Human Rights abuses that justice will be done, both for Latifa and for countless other women in the Gulf.”

In another video, Latifa spoke about how she took strength and hope from all those around the world supporting her.  “The situation is very hard, but I have hope and I’m not giving up, especially since I have like Tiina fighting for me and David and so many other people who are doing amazing and you know like, I shouldn’t give up and they’re not giving up. Why should I give up?” 


About Free Latifa

Princess Latifa stands for every person, especially every woman, who is held against their will when they have done nothing wrong. The Free Latifa Campaign is run by Latifa’s family, closest friends, supporters and advisors. It is headed by Latifa’s best friend Tiina Jauhiainen as Campaign Director, a human rights lawyer and campaigner David Haigh, Latifa’s cousin Marcus Essabri, and Latifa’s close friends Stephania Martinengo and Marco Remes. The campaign also benefits from the support of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Detained International and a growing number of Latifa’s family, supporters, media, lawyers, politicians and celebrities around the world. The campaign is about positivity and love, we have one goal, to #FreeLatifa. Updates on the campaign can be found on www.freelatifa.com

Press Contact          

Tiina Jauhiainen and David Haigh

Campaign to Free Latifa

Email:                          latifa@freelatifa.com

Telephone:                  + 44 (0) 203 900 1188

Twitter:                       @freelatifa

Facebook:                   @freelatifa

Instagram:                  @freelatifa

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