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The Kidnapping of Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum


British NGO Detained in Dubai was contacted via email in late February by a woman claiming to be Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE.  She stated that she had suffered severe abuse and restrictions on her freedom, and that she intended to escape the country.  Initially, this email was dismissed as a hoax; however, some days later, Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, was contacted via Whatsapp by Hervé Jaubert who stated that the Sheikha and her friend were with him aboard his yacht Nostromo, and that he had helped Latifa escape the UAE.

Stirling was familiar with Jaubert, a French-American national famous for writing “Escape from Dubai”, a book about his own flight from the UAE over false corruption charges.  Jaubert, who is a former French intelligence agent, said he had been recruited to help Latifa escape the Emirates to India,  and ultimately to seek asylum in the United States.

Immediately, Detained in Dubai began independently verifying the identities of Latifa and all on board and these were confirmed by multiple parties.  Over the course of two to three days, Stirling maintained regular contact with both Jaubert and Latifa throughout their journey to India. Stirling was instructed by all parties that Detained in Dubai should act on their behalf, in coordination with two American attorneys retained by Jaubert and Latifa.

During their communication, Latifa conveyed to Stirling that she had been beaten, tortured, detained in solitary confinement, threatened, and drugged upon the orders of her father for 3 years following an earlier escape attempt at the age of 16. Since then, she alleged that her freedom was severely restricted, with all her movements controlled by her father. She also claimed that Sheikh Mohammed had perpetrated or ordered the commission of several other crimes, including the murder of his own sister-in-law; and Latifa expressed her desire to file charges against him once she reached a safe jurisdiction.  Latifa also recorded a  video  prior to her escape detailing her reasons for fleeing the UAE that was sent to a US attorney for publication in the event of her disappearance or death.

On March 4th, Stirling received a frantic call from Sheikha Latifa saying that Nostromo was being boarded amidst gunfire, and pleading for help. Communication ceased at this point, both with Latifa and with Jaubert. As instructed, Detained in Dubai immediately took action, filing missing persons reports in multiple jurisdictions for everyone on board, and submitting a complaint to the United Nations Special Procedures Branch, specifically the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment and the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights requesting their urgent and immediate intervention. Stirling also established contact with Latifa’s and Jaubert’s attorneys in the US, and obtained a copy of the video Latifa had recorded, distributing it to a number of media outlets as per her instructions.

By following the automatic identification system (AIS) which monitors the movements of ships at sea, Detained in Dubai eventually located Nostromo docked at a military base in Fujairah, UAE. Shortly thereafter, the boat’s signal indicated it had set sail again; at which point Jaubert reestablished communication with Stirling, initially through his family, and then directly.

Jaubert stated that he had been severely beaten onboard Nostromo, as were his crew, Latifa was immediately taken from the boat while screaming that she wanted to seek political asylum and would rather die than be sent back to the UAE.  Jaubert, Jauhiaien, and the 3 Filipino crew members were all handcuffed and blindfolded, and Nostromo was towed back to the UAE where all of the abducted were detained in solitary confinement and interrogated for several days.

Shortly after contact was made with Hervé Jaubert, Detained in Dubai received word that Tiina Jauhiainen had also been released and was on her way back to her family in Finland.

In a statement to Detained in Dubai, Tiina said that as ”Latifa’s closest friend I know the horrors of what she has suffered in the UAE at the hands of the ruling family and in particular her father. This was Latifa’s second attempt to leave the country and live a free life. Latifa was desperate to leave the country we did so on the 24th February 2018.”

Tiina gave her account of the raid on Nostromo, “On Sunday 4th March 2018 as night fell we what were off the coast of Goa, India when we were attacked by Indian secret service and military, including the Indian Coast Guard.” Tina said, “Around 15 men came onboard fully masked, in armoured black clothing, with machine guns and laser sights. They used what was some kind of gas that filled the boat was smoke. It was the most terrifying experience of my life, The Indian men had their laser sights on me and Latifa and they were telling me they would shoot me and kill me. I was thrown against the floor, stood on and found myself next to a pool of blood. At this point I thought they had killed Hervé and I thought I was next. They told me again and again that they would kill me and held me on the edge of the boat, threatening to shoot me. We were cuffed and forced to lie down.”

Once in the UAE, Tiina and Hervé were kept in isolation and interrogated off and on for nearly two weeks.  At one point they were forced to read “confessions” written by the Emirati authorities, which were video-recorded; and were made to sign documents in Arabic which they could not understand.  Additionally, both Tiina and Hervé were forced to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements stipulating that they would never discuss any of the events that had occurred. Tiina reported that she was given a warning that “Sheikh Mohammed is a very powerful man and he can get you anywhere in the world”.

Before being released, UAE authorities told Hervé that he had not broken any laws, but that, in their view, he had violated “Islamic Law” by helping Latifa escape, and that they saw this as him “kidnapping” her from her father.

“At present, the whereabouts of Latifa remain unknown,” Radha Stirling says.  “We do not know if she is alive or dead.  She is still classified as a missing person.  We are continuing our efforts on her behalf, and on behalf of Tiina Jauhiaien, Hervé Jaubert and the crew of Nostromo.  The UAE and India broke a host of laws when they attacked Hervé’s American registered yacht in international waters and abducted all on board with excessive force; and in addition to these actions, Latifa’s allegations against Sheikh Mohammed are grave and warrant a full investigation.  We will be pursuing these matters legally in multiple jurisdictions in the coming weeks.”

PRESS & RESOURCES COLLECTION by Detained in Dubai available HERE

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