“I’m a hostage, and this villa has been converted into a jail, all the windows are barred shut.”  “I was told I would never see the sun again”. 

Last night, BBC’s Panorama aired a disturbing programme featuring the secretly-recorded video messages from Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed, to her friends, explaining that she was being held “hostage” by her father and feared for her life.

She had tried to flee the country in 2018 and says that armed commandos, acting on her father’s orders, drugged her as she fled by boat and flew her back to detention where she says has been kept prisoner ever since. She says in the messages obtained by BBC that she is afraid for her safety and her life,and that she is being denied basic freedoms.

The bizarre and often alarming story was further complicated by the intervention of the former President of Ireland, and a former UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson.

As the case of the ‘disappearing princess’ continued to make headlines, Ms Robinson was flown by Princess Latifa’s family for a meeting and a lunch after which photographs were released with the purpose, at  the family’s contrivance, to show the princess was alive and in good hands. The former Irish President said she went to the lunch meeting at the request of Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, Princess Haya, who was a personal friend and stepmother to Princess Latifa.

After the meeting, despite the media furore and widespread criticism, Mary Robinson told the BBC the Princess was a troubled young woman who was in need of medical care. “She’s a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she’s receiving,” she said, adding that the Princess’s family “did not want her to endure any more publicity”.

She added that the young woman was now in the loving care of her family.

Last night, BBC reported that Princess Latifa says that her stepmother, Princess Haya, warned her to act well at lunch, as it was a test to see if she could be given some freedom.

Ms Robinson now claims that she was told Latifa had a “serious bi-polar problem” and that she had not asked the young princess about her widely-publicised situation because she wasn’t “very familiar with people who are bi-polar” and she decided “to take a pass on that”. She said that she didn’t want to increase the trauma over a “nice lunch”.

The reaction on social media to Ms Robinson’s defence of her actions to BBC was scathing, with many saying that she had further questions to answer.

Journalist Mark Paul said that the judgment of the former President needed to be questioned in all of this.

“How Mary Robinson didn’t realise she was tricked is the real head scratcher. Trusted her UAE friends way too much. And when there was a public outcry, she doubled down on radio to dig an even deeper hole for herself. You’ve got to question her judgement in all of this,” he tweeted.

Others said that the BBC should have asked more searching questions of the former Irish President.

“I think the BBC were very easy on Mary Robinson, too easy in fact. It’s hard to believe that a former President and former UN High Commissioner was so easily duped,” wrote one barrister.

Another woman posted that questions about Mary Robinson’s presence needed  more probing.

While one man said that he “thought it unbelievable that Mary Robinson was naive enough to back the family against Princess Latifa at the time.”

Ms Robinson was previously described as a “willing pawn” by some human rights campaigners, who said she had been “used as a willing pawn in the PR battle between the UAE ruling family and the rest of the world”

Ms Robinson said she was dismayed at the criticism she faced after the controversial lunch and that she was “horribly tricked” by the Latifa’s family.

But that claim was rejected with Mark Paul saying: “She deserves all the criticism she gets. And then she goes on radio and tells the world that Latifah was a “troubled woman” who was being looked after by her family. What a mess of an intervention.”

Fellow journalist Eilis O’Hanlon  had this comment to make, suggesting Ms Robinson was being held to a lower standard by a sympathetic media.

 


 

Mairín de Barra