On March 5, a high court in England released a fact-finding judgment confirming that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and noted endurance athlete and supporter, had held two of his daughters in the country against their will and threatened his former wife Princess Haya bint Hussein, who was the Fédération Equestre Internationale president from 2006 to 2014.
Princess Haya made headlines in the spring of 2019 when she left Dubai with her two children, Sheikha Al Jalila bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Jalila), now 12, and Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Zayed), now 7, and traveled to England. Mohammed started legal action in May to have the children returned to Dubai, and a court battle has been ongoing ever since.
Princess Haya, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and an accomplished show jumper who has represented Jordan at the Olympic Games and FEI World Equestrian Games, claimed her life was in danger and that her children were at risk of being kidnapped on their father’s orders. She pointed to the examples of two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa—their mother is Huriah Ahmed Al M’aash, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s numerous unofficial wives—who had tried to flee the country and been returned and held against their will. Haya asked that her children be made wards of the British court to protect them.
While Sheikh Mohammed eventually withdrew his request for the children to be returned, Sir Andrew McFarlane, judge and president of the family division of England’s High Court of Justice, insisted on a fact-finding process and hearing.
The findings, published in a 34-page document, confirm almost all of Haya’s claims and tell a harrowing story of women threatened, abused and locked up, despite their royal status.
Sheikha Shamsa, then 20, tried to permanently leave Dubai in 2000 and was caught and returned via helicopter. She was seeking help from an immigration lawyer in order to stay in England at the time of her capture.
A 2001 email sent to the lawyer by Sheikha Shamsa’s sister Sheikha Latifa and attributed to Sheikha Shamsa stated: “I was caught on the 19th August, in Cambridge. He sent four Arab men to catch me, they were carrying guns and threatening me, they drove me to my father’s place in Newmarket, there they gave me two injections and a handful of tablets, the very next morning a helicopter came and flew me to the plane, which took me back to Dubai.”
Sheikha Latifa, who attempted her own escape in 2002 and 2018, made a video before her second attempt to leave Dubai, and in it she stated that Sheikha Shamsa is confined to one room and is constantly supervised by nurses and a psychiatrist. She also stated she receives regular medication “to control her mind.”
In Sheikha Latifa’s video, she also speaks about what happened after her first escape attempt, when she was 18 and only made it as far as the Dubai border.
“I was in prison for three years and four months. I went in June 2002, and I came out in October 2005,” she said. “It was constant torture, constant torture, even when they weren’t physically beating me up, they were torturing me. They would switch off all the lights. I was in solitary confinement by myself totally, and there’s no windows, there’s no light, so when they switched off the light, it was pitch black. They would switch it off for days, so I didn’t know when one day ended then the next began.”
In her next attempt to leave, she made it as far as international waters, accompanied by Tiina Jauhiainen, a close friend from Finland. The Indian Coast Guard stopped her on March 4, 2018, and returned Sheikha Latifa to Dubai.
Jauhiainen testified that “Latifa’s last words that I heard as she was dragged away kicking and screaming were words to the effect that, ‘You can’t get me back alive. Don’t take me back. Shoot me here don’t take me back’ in English.”
Jauhiainen hasn’t heard from Sheikha Latifa since.
While Sheikh Mohammed refused to testify in court, he submitted written statements regarding Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa. He defended his actions by saying he was protecting his daughters, and in the case of Sheikha Latifa, he was rescuing her from a ransom situation.
“We had reason to believe that Latifa had been manipulated over a long period of time by a man called Herve Jaubert (a Frenchman now based, I believe, in Manila), and possibly by others too,” wrote Sheikh Mohammed. “Sadly it seems that Mr Jaubert’s objective was to extort money. Certainly a financial demand was made to us. We feared that our daughter was in the hands of a criminal who might hold her to ransom and harm her.”
Sheikh Mohammed said neither of his daughters wanted to testify.
Haya began asking questions after Sheikha Latifa’s return, and she met with her in December of 2018. After a few more visits, she was told Sheikha Latifa no longer wanted to see her, and Haya said Sheikh Mohammed told her to stop interfering.
After that, Haya’s trusted staff members were dismissed, her representative on the Ruler’s Court had to leave, and her desk at the Ruler’s Court was removed, a “ ‘huge public slap in the face,’ indicating that she no longer had any official status within the Ruler’s Court.”
Sheikh Mohammed divorced Haya, unbeknownst to her, under Sharia Law on Feb. 7, 2019. She began receiving anonymous notes informing her: “We will take your son—your daughter is ours—your life is over,” or warning her to be careful.
Twice Haya found a gun on her bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off. These continuing incidents led her to flee with her two children. Threats continued after she traveled to England, so she filed for protection with the British courts. A British police officer who “occupied a position of significant responsibility in relation” to Haya testified that he’d been threatened by an employee of Sheikh Mohammed’s and told to stop working for Haya.
In his conclusion, judge McFarlane stated: “I find that the cumulative effect of each of these episodes was to place the mother in a position of great fear leading her to conclude that she had no option but to leave Dubai with the children as she did.”
He continued that the pattern of Mohammed’s behavior over the past two decades demonstrates a consistent course of conduct, “where, if he deems it necessary to do so, the father will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims.”
The next stage of the court proceedings is to evaluate the risk of the children being removed against Haya’s will and returned to Dubai.