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Dubai ruler's daughter planned failed escape for years, new film details

Sheikha Latifa's long-planned attempt to flee her oppressive family took her within 50km of Goa before her recapture at sea
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum has not been seen publicly since March. (Screengrab)

An Emirati princess, who has not been seen publicly since a failed attempt to escape her family in March, planned her bid for freedom for seven years, a BBC documentary will detail on Thursday.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, daughter of the United Arab Emirates's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, was apparently apprehended by armed men on a boat off the Indian coast. Since then her whereabouts have been unknown.

A few days later, her case drew public attention as a pre-recorded video describing the agony of her restricted life and overbearing family circulated online. A Dubai government source has since told the AFP news agency she is with her family and "doing excellent".

In Escape From Dubai, filmmakers trace Latifa's movements and mood through people involved in her escape plan, including a French former spy, a Finnish confidante and the Filipino crew of a boat that allegedly attempted to take her to India.

I’ve been mistreated and oppressed all of my life. Women are treated like subhumans. My father ... can’t continue to do what he’s been doing to us all

- Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum

Herve Jaubert, the French ex-spy and businessman, says he was first contacted by Latifa in 2011, who was drawn to him after hearing he had successfully escaped Dubai previously.

However, when first contacted he apparently worried he was being set up.

“I told her: ‘Look, you are telling me you are the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, maybe it’s a trap and I need to check that you are authentic’,” Jaubert told the BBC.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai (Reuters)
In the documentary, the Frenchman shares some of the princess's correspondence with him, in which she describes her frustration and ill treatment.

“I’ve been mistreated and oppressed all of my life,” she wrote to him. “Women are treated like subhumans. My father ... can’t continue to do what he’s been doing to us all.”

Latifa's attempt to flee earlier this year was not the first. In the video released in March, the 32-year-old says her first bid to flee was at the age of 16, when she was picked up on the UAE's border, beaten, tortured and detained for three years.

In the video, Latifa said: "Pretty soon I'm going to be leaving somehow and I'm not so sure of the outcome, but I'm 99 percent positive it will work. And, if it doesn't, then this video can help me because all my father cares about is his reputation.

"My father is the most evil person I have ever met in my life. He's pure evil. There's nothing good in him."

Latifa's sister, Shamsa, also attempted to escape, but was apparently abducted in Cambridge, England in 2000 and brought back to the Emirates. Cambridge police say they attempted to follow up on the rendition, but their investigations were blocked by the UAE authorities.

Years in the making

After first contacting Jauber in 2011, Latifa wrote to him every two to three days. Sometimes they spoke of the logistics of the escape, sometimes personal matters.

In 2014 the princess met Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish capoeira instructor, and the two became close. Jauhiainen would become a key player in the escape plan.

According to Jauhiainen, the two met on the morning of her breakout to have breakfast. The two women had done so daily in the buildup to her fleeing, in an attempt to lower the guard of the princess's bodyguards when the time came to leave.

She was sending emails to reporters and no one replied back to her. Nobody seemed to believe her, so she seemed desperate and sad

- Tiina Jauhiainen

After changing clothes and sunglasses, the Finn said, the two drove to neighbouring Oman. At the Omani coast Latifa and Jauhiainen apparently travelled across the water by jet ski and inflatable boat for 40km, before being picked up by Jauber on a yacht.

“The waves were about a metre and a half and we had the wind pushing towards us so it took many hours before we got to the boat,” Jauhiainen recounts.

Once aboard, the princess reached out to relatives, journalists and the activist group Detained in Dubai, with little response.

“She was sending emails to reporters and no one replied back to her. Nobody seemed to believe her, so she seemed desperate and sad like you know, who is there to help me now you know they can come after us any day,” Jauhiainen remembers.

According to the BBC her boat was raided a few days later, 50km off the coast of Goa.

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