Dubai princess' backers seek Biden help to win her freedom

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum attends the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Sheikha Latifa, daughter of Dubais ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was detained by commandos as she tried to flee the country in 2018, and new videos have emerged with Latifa saying she is being imprisoned in a heavily guarded villa. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, FILE) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Supporters of an Emirati princess held against her will for almost three years are urging Joe Biden to put pressure on her father to release the woman, saying the U.S. president is one of the few world leaders with the stature to win her freedom.

The case of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum made international headlines Tuesday after the BBC released excerpts from video diaries she said were recorded in a locked bathroom inside the Dubai villa where she was being held. Sheikha Latifa was detained by commandos off the coast of India in 2018 after she tried to flee Dubai in a yacht.

Friends say they are concerned for Sheikha Latifa's safety because she hasn’t been heard from since she stopped responding to text messages six months ago. The 35-year-old princess is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the hereditary ruler of Dubai who also serves as prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates.

David Haigh, a long-time human rights advocate in Dubai and a supporter of Sheikha Latifa, said the princess' backers were encouraged by Saudi Arabia's recent decision to release Loujain al-Hathloul, a women's rights activist who had been held for three years on charges supporters said were politically motivated. Her release came after the Biden administration, which has said it will emphasize human rights in foreign policy, froze some arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“The only level of people that are going to have enough influence to effectively force Latifa's father to open her jail are people like Joe Biden, and there’s very few of them,” Haigh told The Associated Press. “And he’s also shown that he can do it with Saudi.”

The case is also particularly sensitive in Britain because of economic and historic links to Dubai and the UAE, which has built hotels and resorts to diversify an economy once based on exploiting the Emirates' energy reserves. Sheikh Mohammed is the founder of the successful Godolphin horse-racing stable and is on friendly terms with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

The secretive ruler's family life was thrust into the news in 2019, when his estranged wife, Princess Haya, fled to London and sought custody of her two children through the British courts. Last year, a British judge ruled the sheikh had conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against Princess Haya and had ordered the abduction of two of his daughters, including Sheikha Latifa.

Sheikha Latifa’s former personal trainer, Tiina Jauhiainen, told the AP that her friend recorded the video diaries on a phone that was smuggled to her about a year into her detention.