Pictures of a missing Emirati princess who witnesses say was abducted by commandos have been released by her family, evidence they say rebuts “false allegations” she was taken home against her will.
Friends and human rights groups fear for the safety of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, daughter of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who was seized from a yacht off the coast of India in March and has not been heard from since.
In a video she instructed friends to release in case her attempt to escape Dubai went wrong, Latifa said she spent seven years trying to flee a gilded prison. She said she feared torture if she were captured.
In the pictures released on Monday, Latifa appears alongside the former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and Irish president Mary Robinson, who the UAE foreign ministry said was invited by her family to meet Latifa.
With a bemused expression, the princess poses for a photo next to a smiling Robinson. The pair was also pictured having a meal at what appeared to be the family home, as well as feeding baby lion cubs, during Robinson’s purported visit on 15 December.
“Photographs taken during the afternoon they spent together have been shared, with their consent. During her visit to Dubai, Mary Robinson was reassured that Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is receiving the necessary care and support she requires,” the UAE foreign ministry said.
“The communique responds to and rebuts false allegations and provided evidence that HH Sheikha Latifa was at home and living with her family in Dubai.”
The UAE said earlier this month that Latifa is safe and living with her family. The images are the first time the princess has been seen in public since her ill-fated escape attempt.
With the help of a Finnish capoeira teacher, Tiina Jauhiainen, and a former French spy, Hervé Jaubert, Latifa left the UAE overland to neighbouring Oman. After using an inflatable and jetski to travel 26 miles (42km) out into international waters, Jaubert’s yacht picked her up and they set sail for Goa in India.
The boat was boarded just off the Indian coast by armed men who beat those onboard and took Latifa away on a helicopter, witnesses said.
Her Instagram account was deleted shortly after, and Latifa – like her older sister Shamsa, who made an unsuccessful escape attempt in 2000 – has not been seen since.
In messages the princess sent to the campaign group Detained in Dubai during the raid, she begged for help, the group said.
Latifa’s strange case and the meticulous planning that went into her escape attempt were the subject of the BBC documentary Escape from Dubai earlier this month.
Emirati authorities have dismissed the many allegations over the princess’s treatment and abduction as fiction, adding that she is “vulnerable to exploitation” and was kidnapped by Jaubert.