Cornwall's unlikely role in the bid to free a detained Dubai princess

Cornwall's unlikely role in the bid to free a detained Dubai princess

It’s been said that one of the first things Princess Latifa wishes to do once free is trying a vegan pasty and that pictures of Cornwall are keeping her going during her struggle

The Cornwall-based lawyer for a detained Dubai princess has revealed how he smuggled a mobile phone into her ‘prison’ cell under the noses of the authorities.

Back in 2018 Princess Sheikha Latifa was seen being dragged into a rubber boat by Indian and Emirati soldiers as she tried to flee Dubai on board a yacht. It was claimed she had been trying to escape from the UAE to India with the help of a former French spy.

Her supporters allege she suffered abuse at the hands of her ‘egocentric’ father, Dubai Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Princess Latifa’s supporters say she has been forced to live in solitary confinement in Dubai since being taken back and subjected to treatment designed to break her spirit including being given razor blades and a stopwatch to count her time in captivity.

In a recently-aired explosive BBC Panorama documentary it was revealed that Princess Latifa, 35, had been in regular contact with west Cornwall-based human rights lawyer David Haigh, the pair sharing secretly recorded video messages and case evidence between her cell and Mr Haigh’s home in Lamorna.

Mr Haigh says recent contact with Princess Latifa leads him to believe that victory in his fight to free her has moved a significant step closer.

The Princess is believed to be currently being held hostage somewhere in Dubai against her will by her billionaire father, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the UAE. It is claimed the villa she has been staying in has been converted into a prison cell with bars put on the window and restrictions on her leaving.

Princess Latifa

Mr Haigh, a former Leeds United MD, said: “It was very difficult and dangerous to smuggle a phone to perhaps the most guarded person on Dubai, many people put their lives at risk, but Tiina Jauhiainen and I knew we had to try. We knew that video evidence that our friend Princess Latifa was held hostage and subject to horrific abuse would ignite the world and could save her life.

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“From my home in sleepy Lamorna I was communicating with Princess Latifa in secret for the best part of two years for hours a day, not only getting all the evidence of what had happened to Latifa but doing my best to keep her spirits up.

“I would send daily pictures of sunrises and sunsets in Lamorna to Latifa, and pictures of our beautiful Cornish beaches to remind Latifa there was a beautiful world waiting for her outside of the four walls of her Dubai jail.

“Latifa fell in love with Cornwall, and it was the first place she planned to visit once free. She loved the pictures of Lamorna and Sennen but by far her favourite I think was Tintagel and St Nectan’s Glen; she also couldn’t wait to try a vegan Cornish pasty.”

Mr Haigh also says other residents of west Cornwall have played their parts, from people keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in sleepy west Cornwall’s villages to a wise woman in St Buryan doing readings when Princess Latifa first went missing.

On the day of the Panorama broadcast Mr Haigh sent a message to his fellow Lamorna residents in the local newsletter apologising to his neighbours for having been a virtual recluse for the past two years.

David Haigh and Tiina Jauhiainen at Truro Cathedral (Image: Sally Adams)

“I have suffered the worst of harassment, online abuse and intimidation, it got so bad that Devon and Cornwall Police installed a safe room in my home and gave me a Home Office GPS police alarm.

“Recently I had people pretending to be me and reporting my passport lost, so I had problems travelling, applying as me to file for bankruptcy – (which I’m now trying to set aside), hacking my phones and even today I received sinister death threats by video to my WhatsApp.”

Lamorna, a remote cove on Cornwall’s rugged coastline a few miles from Lands’ End, has become the unlikely hub of Detained International’s international FreeLatifa campaign.

Last week saw Mr Haigh’s Cornish office appear on televisions around the world.

Mr Haigh founded the NGO in 2018 alongside Tiina Jauhiainen and others to fight injustice and human rights abuse around the world.

Mr Haigh was on a call with the princess on March 4, 2018, when Indian commandos stormed the yacht of the princess and snatched her and Tiina at gunpoint.

Mr Haigh and Tiina say they have taken significant risks smuggling the smartphone to Latifa while she is in captivity and are extremely concerned for the life of their friend.

Mr Haigh says he received the texts about the stopwatch last year.

David Haigh, Tiina Jauhiainen and Princess Latifa’s cousin Marcus of the Free Latifa campaign

He wants Princess Latifa to be brought to the UK and claimed she has been denied medical care by her captors.

Describing the moment he received the texts he said: “When I received the message about the timing device and the picture from Princess Latifa I was devastated, I knew it meant they planned to keep her there for a long time.

“I also realised it was part of a cruel game, part of a three-year-long programme of torture.

“People need to realise how dangerous this situation is and that Latifa urgently needs help and support from the outside world.”

Princess Latifa wrote: “Just to let you know, guard woman told me to prepare to stay one more year…and got me this [the stopwatch] to make the time go faster.”

Below the text was a picture of a new yellow electronic counter still in its plastic packaging.

She also drew a diagram of the sprawling building she is being held in – believed to be just yards from Dubai’s tourist beaches popular with British celebrities.

It shows her small room is on the first floor of the main villa building, behind trees and gates, not far from blocks on either side where on-site police are based.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum arriving at Royal Ascot, June 2019

In videos filmed last year from the bathroom and released last week she claimed the villa has been converted into a jail, with bars on the windows, adding that she is not allowed outside and fears for her safety.

Princess Latifa said: “I’ve been in prison now for 14 months and basically I’m a hostage and don’t know when I’ll be released or what the conditions will be like when I’m released. Every day I’m worried about my safety and my life, I don’t really know if I’m going to survive the situation. The police threaten that they’ll take me outside and shoot me if I don’t co-operate with them and they also threaten I’ll be in prison my whole life and never see the sun again.”

On the back of the Panorama expose, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “concerned” about her situation and confirmed that the UN was investigating.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab also described the videos as “very troubling”.

Last year, the High Court in London found that her father, Sheikh Mohammed, “ordered and orchestrated” the abduction and forced return to Dubai of Princess Latifa twice, in 2002 and again in 2018.

The Dubai royal family has said Princess Latifa is “being cared for at home” after the international concerns for her safety.

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