Dubai is under pressure to reveal what happened to one of its princesses, who was allegedly kidnapped by armed men after trying to flee to India on a luxury yacht.
“Daredevil royal” Sheikha Latifa bin Mohammad al-Maktoum is said to have been missing since her attempt to seek asylum was thwarted two months ago.
In a video released after her alleged kidnapping, a woman claiming to be the princess said she first tried to escape Dubai in 2002 but was detained and tortured for more than three years.
Who is Sheikha Latifa?
Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum II is one of the daughters of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates.
The 32-year-old was described in a January 2017 profile by Emirates Woman as “the daredevil royal”.
Her hobbies include skydiving, which she is pictured doing in several Instagram posts.
On March 11, a woman claiming to be Sheikha Latifa appeared in a 40-minute video posted to YouTube detailing her intention to escape the UAE.
“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,” the woman says.
“If you are watching this video it’s not such a good thing – either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very bad situation.”
The woman said her first attempt to flee to neighbouring Oman, in 2002, when she was 16-years-old, was thwarted, and she was detained and tortured for more than three years.
She said her sister, Shamsa Al Maktoum, escaped in 2000 but was brought back to Dubai and imprisoned.
The woman described her life in the UAE as “very restricted”, saying she was under curfew, was not allowed to drive or travel, and was followed by minders who reported back to her father’s office.
The video was released by Detained in Dubai, a British organisation that assists people with legal problems in the UAE.
The woman said she asked the organisation for help and provided them with several documents to prove her identity, including a photocopy of her passport.
Armed men storm escape vessel
Detained in Dubai said Sheikha Latifa left the UAE on board the Nostromo, a private vessel belonging to dual French and American citizen Herve Jaubert.
It said she planned to sail to India, then fly to the United States, where she would seek asylum.
Also on board was Finnish woman Tiina Jauhiainen, reportedly a martial arts instructor, who says she is a long-term friend of the Princess.
Ms Jauhiainen told Human Rights Watch the Nostromo was intercepted by UAE authorities off the coast of India on March 4.
She said men armed with guns and wearing body armour boarded the vessel and removed Sheikha Latifa, who has not been seen since.
Ms Jauhiainen alleged she was taken back to the UAE and made to sign several Arabic-language documents, which she could not read, before being allowed to return to Finland on March 22.
Detained in Dubai chief executive Radha Sterling said he received a WhatsApp voice call from Sheikha Latifa when the Nostromo was under attack.
“Radha please help me, there are men outside,” the message purportedly said.
Mr Sterling said he wrote to the Metropolitan Police Service in London to report Sheikha Latifa as missing.
News agency Agence France-Presse last month reported an anonymous source as confirming that Sheikha Latifa had been brought back to Dubai.
In a statement last week, Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson called on UAE authorities to immediately reveal the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa.
“If she is detained she needs to be given the rights all detainees should have, including being taken before an independent judge,” Ms Whitson said.
Dubai’s authorities told BBC News they could not comment for legal reasons.