One year on since a violent raid at sea crushed Sheikha Latifa’s dream of freedom, the BBC Two documentary on her story, Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, will air on the ABC’s Four Corners programme this Monday. Australian human rights and UAE expert Radha Stirling, whose organisation Detained in Dubai has led the effort to secure Latifa’s release, remembers well the night the princess was captured, “Latifa contacted me after she set out on the yacht Nostromo, heading for India, and we were in regular communication during their tense journey across the sea,” Stirling recalls, “They were a few miles from the shore of Goa when Latifa phoned me in a panic, pleading for help. She said she heard gunfire and that men were boarding the boat; and then communication stopped completely.”
Latifa and the American/French captain Hervé Jaubert had reached out to Ms Stirling because of her extensive work over the past decade fighting against injustice in the UAE and because she was known to Mr Jaubert. Radha Stirling has become a reliable problem solver for wrongful cases in the Emirates both civil and criminal. She has played a key role in resolving and campaigning for high profile cases such as those of Australians Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, Alicia Gail, Scott Richards, Sun McKay and Cat Le-Huy. Detained in Dubai has become the leading voice for reforms to the UAE justice system, and has shined the spotlight of international media both on individual cases of injustice and endemic human rights abuses in the country. Stirling and Senator Kroger successfully lobbied for Australian Parliament to ensure human rights safeguards were included in the extradition treaty with the UAE.
“Latifa had great hopes of successfully escaping what she said was a long history of abuse and repression by her father, Sheikh Mohammed,” Stirling says, “But she also knew that the risks were high, and she asked me to act on her behalf, to deliver her story to the world, if the unthinkable happened. When communication ceased, I knew she had been captured, and immediately took action. I contacted authorities in multiple countries to file missing persons reports for Latifa and everyone else onboard Nostromo; and I released the now famous video Latifa had recorded before her escape, as per her instructions. I pushed very hard for the media to publish her story, and despite extreme hesitation on their part, we eventually got the news out into the mainstream press.”
When Latifa was captured in what was later known to have been a joint military operation between the UAE and India, Emirati special forces also abducted Herve Jaubert, the captain of Nostromo, Latifa’s friend Tiina Jauhiainen, and the ship’s crew. Jaubert stated that he was explicitly told by UAE security officials that he would be executed for his participation in Latifa’s escape. Following publication of the story in the Daily Mail, he said, the Emiratis’ attitude changed and they were released shortly thereafter. “There is little question that had we not been able to get the media’s support, we may never have heard from Herve or Tiina again,” Stirling says, “This is standard with the UAE; only when the international media become involved do the authorities respond. Indeed, it was only when this BBC documentary was about to air in the UK did the Emirates issue a statement on Latifa’s status; they had originally even refused to acknowledge that she even existed.”
Detained in Dubai initiated a complaint via Guernica 37 Chambers to the United Nations over Latifa’s disappearance, and testified before the UN committee on enforced disappearances in Geneva last year. “The UN has launched a formal enquiry into Latifa’s abduction, and the illegal raid conducted in international waters by the UAE and India, but the Emirates has failed to reply,” Radha explains, “The UN process is ongoing, as is an FBI investigation into the incident. Other legal actions are being explored by all victims of the attack.”
BBC Two’s Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess details the events surrounding the case and presents an objective and disturbing picture of the United Arab Emirates which profoundly contradicts the carefully crafted image of the country as a modern, liberal Arab nation. “We worked closely with producer Jane McMullen,” Radha says, “She has put together the best narration of Latifa’s story to date, and she refused to shy away from showing the reality of the UAE. Her film is essential for understanding not only what happened to Sheikha Latifa, but for understanding the dark side of Dubai, which far too many people don’t know exists.”