Knocked to the floor with hands tied behind their backs and an army of men with machetes standing over them, two close friends experienced the ultimate state of fear as the hopes of freedom for a rebellious princess came to an abrupt halt.
“They were threatening to kill me,” Tiina Jauhiainen tells WHO. “[Princess Latifa] was in front of me kicking and screaming. She was saying, ‘I’m claiming political asylum!’ But the authorities didn’t listen. They were just telling her to shut up and threatening to shoot her. Then there was an Arabic-speaking man who was there to identify her and take her away.”
The kidnapped royal was Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, 32, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Although Latifa grew up with wealth and privilege, the one thing she was not allowed, according to her best friend Jauhiainen, 41, was the freedom to do as she wished. “She had curfews,” Jauhianien told 60 Minutes. “Her life was just very restricted, and it felt like she always had to look over her shoulder.”
In an attempt to flee that restricted lifestyle, Latifa and Jauhiainen took matters into their own hands on March 4. “We escaped together, drove from the UAE to Oman and sailed eight days towards India,” Jauhiainen tells WHO.
On a yacht skippered by former French spy Hervé Jaubert, the group allege they were attacked in international waters by Indian and UAE forces. “We were about to go to sleep in the cabin but suddenly started hearing noises from the upper deck, which sounded like gunshots,” Jauhiainen says.
“The cabin filled with smoke, so we had to get to the upper deck. We saw people wearing bulletproof vests and they had machine guns. That’s when we were separated ... ” Following the attack, in which Jaubert and Jauhiainen were also detained, a video was released by British-based organisation Detained in Dubai, which aids citizens who face legal woes in the UAE.
“All my father cares about is his reputation,” the princess states on the video. “If you are watching this, either I’m dead or in a very, very bad situation.” Latifa claimed a previous escape attempt resulted in three years in jail and “constant torture.”
“At times they would leave her in solitary confinement,” Jauhiainen says. “She told me she had a broken mattress, there would be men regularly walking in to beat her up. She was in so much pain she would have to crawl to the bathroom.”
The imprisonment only strengthened Latifa’s resolve to escape. This time, Jauhiainen says her friend’s “plan was to go to the US and seek political asylum. She wanted to have a normal life. Where she can do things that anyone else takes for granted.”
Another reason is “She thought that getting to the US safely would help her sister Shamsa and then other women who are in similar situations,” says Jauhiainen, who claims Shamsa is currently held against her will in the wing of her “very religious and closed- minded” mother’s UAE home. “Shamsa has a team of doctors and nurses.
She’s heavily medicated so they can control her. At some point they found her with a lot of mobile phones so they thought she was planning to contact journalists in the UK,” Jauhiainen says. “The family were worried and their solution was to lock her up in one of the wings in their big home. It’s very sad, but the mother is trying to save the family’s reputation, which seems to be the most important thing in the UAE. It’s all about the reputation.”
While it’s been months since the disappearance of the princess, her father has made no public statement. “Latifa is still missing and locked up. Even with the UN and [NGO] Human Rights Watch involved, her family still hasn’t [spoken] about her whereabouts,” Jauhiainen says.
“No-one will say what happened, despite an unlawful military attack on international waters.” In the final moments before she was captured, the princess was “very brave” declaring, “I’d rather you shoot me than take me back.”
Jauhiainen claims the story has received little traction in the UK because of Sheikh Mohammed’s “strong ties” in that region. But despite no contact from her friend, Jauhiainen believes the royal is still alive, “Yes, I want to think so. I really hope so.”