Last Sunday Australia’s most-watched and award winning television news program exposed the shocking story of Princess Latifa, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. Though it has been nearly 5 months since her dramatic escape from the Emirates and her subsequent tragic capture at the hands of UAE special forces and the Indian Coast Guard; the 60 Minutes broadcast brought Latifa’s story to for the first time to a mass Australian audience.
After the story aired, reporter Tom Steinfort tweeted to Sheikh Mohammed, “… Where is your daughter? The world needs answers”, echoing the sentiments of a growing number of concerned organisations, activists, and private individuals who have been moved by Princess Latifa’s story.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, Latifa's appointed representative, was the last person to speak with the princess before her kidnapping, says “It is profoundly important for Latifa’s plight to reach a world audience. Her story exposes everything that is wrong with the UAE, from the top down. Everything our organisation has been dealing with for the last ten years; corruption, torture, arbitrary detention, threats and intimidation, the abysmal state of women’s rights in the UAE, and a government that behaves despotically on a regular basis; are all highlighted in the terrible events preceding and following March 4th 2018, when Latifa’s escape to freedom was violently brought to an end.”
Stirling says that the UAE has largely succeeded in establishing an international image as a modern, liberal Arab country that stands in stark contrast to the reality she and her team at Detained in Dubai deal with on a daily basis.
"Western tourists, expats and businesspeople need to be aware of the real risks they take traveling to the UAE,” she explains. “This is a country that regularly imprisons women for sex outside of marriage after they have reported being raped. This is a country where homosexuality is a capital offence. It is telling that Princess Latifa, a member of the royal family, whom one would presume enjoys a degree of personal liberty above and beyond the average person; was so inhumanely treated, so relentlessly abused, that she was willing to risk her life to escape.
The UAE spends a tremendous amount of money to promote a positive image of the country; they have made Dubai one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But the truth is that foreigners are more likely to get entangled in legal problems in the UAE than in any other country. The same way the UAE has worked overtime to cover up the Latifa story, they have employed Western PR firms to cover up the widespread abuses inflicted daily against foreigners in the Emirates.”
Stirling, who hails from Melbourne, added that Australians need to know the truth about the UAE, as Detained in Dubai has come to the aid of an increasing number of Aussies who have been wrongly charged and jailed in the UAE. “For example, Qantas has increased transit stops through Dubai, which has led to Australians being pulled off flights on the way to Europe and jailed.”
Travel warnings by the Australian government regarding visits to the UAE need to be increased, Stirling says, “we have been lobbying the British and American governments to do a better job of informing their citizens about the dangers of travel to the UAE, and Australians need to be aware as well. Too many people only know about the UAE what the Dubai Media Office tells them, or what paid PR firms want them to know. Existing travel warnings do not mention the fact that obeying the law in the UAE is actually no guarantee of being safe from arbitrary and malicious prosecution based on fabricated evidence and forced confessions; which are common practice in the Emirates”.
The disturbing saga of Latifa Al Maktoum has begun to open the eyes of the world to the reality of the UAE, Stirling says, “even the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, was not safe, was not free; and until now, her whereabouts and welfare are unknown; and the government has denied and defied international calls for her release. The UAE has refused to even so much as respond to an enquiry by the United Nations about Latifa. An ordinary expat or tourist traveling to the UAE cannot expect to be treated with a greater degree of fairness than one of the country’s own royal daughters. We applaud 60 Minutes and Tom Steinfort for their brave coverage of this story, and for taking the lead in exposing the ugly side of Dubai to the people of Australia.”