Friends of Latifa: "Biden must act now" to help free Dubai ruler's imprisoned daughters

March 4, 2021 12:41 PM EST

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CLEVELAND, March 4, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Americans are calling on the Biden administration to help secure the release of two princesses confined for years by the billionaire ruler of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Today marks three years since March 4, 2018, when Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, 35, was abducted from international waters and forcibly returned to Dubai. Earlier that year, she planned to escape Dubai with the help of friend Tiina Jauhiainen. They boarded a U.S.-flagged yacht and crossed the Indian Ocean, with plans for Latifa to fly to the U.S. and seek asylum. This plan came to a nightmarish end when Indian and Emirati military forces intercepted the boat. Despite her pleas for asylum, Latifa was tranquilized and flown back to Dubai by private jet. She has been confined ever since.

Recently, secret videos were released where Latifa described the brutal conditions of her captivity and isolation.

Her sister, Sheikha Shamsa Al Maktoum, 39, also unsuccessfully fled while visiting the U.K. nearly two decades earlier. She lived freely for one month in summer 2000 before being kidnapped from the streets and forced back to Dubai. She has not been seen publicly since.

"The UAE is a major military and economic partner," said Peter J. Fry, director of Friends of Latifa. "President Biden has made clear that our partnerships must reflect our values. When Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum imprisons innocent women for years, does this reflect our values? Biden must act now." Friends of Latifa is preparing sanction recommendations for the Biden administration.

"It is appalling but not shocking that the UAE government has failed to investigate the detention of the princesses or arrest and prosecute their father, who kidnapped these adult women and holds them captive in his private residence," said Sarah Leah Whitson. Whitson is executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization founded by murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. "Their ongoing detention is not just a case of domestic violence, but state-supported persecution and arbitrary detention."

Toby Cadman, a U.K.-based international law expert, raised Latifa's case before the U.N. just days after she was kidnapped. "By confining Latifa and Shamsa, the UAE is violating multiple U.N. conventions," he said. "The U.S. must use its influence to push for their release."

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