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In the case of Sheikha Latifa, we want equality

25 Feb 2022
In the case of Sheikha Latifa, we want equality

On April 28, the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi issued a three-year prison sentence against two Emirati activists, Maryam Al Balushi and Amina Al Abdouli, in Case No. 61 of 2021, for “publishing false information that disturbs public order.”

The State Security Apparatus (SSA) Prosecution brought new charges against them for sending a series of audio recordings in which they appealed to human rights organizations because they were subjected to violations inside Emirati prisons.

The recordings published by human rights organizations between 2018 and 2019, revealed important information that Amina and Maryam were subjected to enforced disappearance and torture by SSA officers with the aim of forcing them to sign forced confessions condemning them.

The two detainees were subjected to severe retaliation by the authorities because of these recordings, as they were transferred from Al Wathba prison to an unknown location, and were referred to the Public Prosecution, then were charged with new charges of “leaking false information that affects the reputation of the UAE”, and then they were sentenced to 3 additional years in prison.

The paradox here is that the UAE authorities dealt completely different with the case of Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, despite the great similarity between her story and the story of Maryam and Amina, which confirms that the authorities apply laws with double standards, and do not treat citizens equally before the law.

The story of Sheikha Latifa began in February 2018 when she tried to escape from the UAE on a luxury yacht, but the Special Forces thwarted the attempt after they intercepted the yacht's path near the coast of Goa and returned her to the country again.

The authorities detained Sheikha Latifa in a villa under heavy security, and no charges were brought against her, which reflects a clear distinction between the way Latifa was treated and other Emirati women who are being held in prisons where the most basic necessities of life are not available.

But the point of similarity between the stories of Sheikha Latifa, Maryam and Amina, is that the first also published a video clip recorded by a phone smuggled to her, in which she complained about the violations being practiced against her, and said that she was “a hostage being held in a villa-shaped prison” under heavy security, adding "I don't know if I would be able to stay in this situation very long. The police threatened me that I might spend my whole life in prison, and I might never see the sun again."

While the authorities allowed the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to visit Sheikha Latifa and take pictures with her, and this is something we welcome, but after the leaking of the recordings, Maryam and Amina were transferred to an unknown location and placed in solitary confinement, and they were subjected to retaliation in the most horrific way, and no one was allowed to communicate with them.

The authorities did not charge Sheikha Latifa with “spreading false information that affects the reputation of the UAE”, as they did with Amina and Maryam. Rather, they released Sheikha Latifa and allowed her to travel to Paris, where she recently met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet in Paris.

The United Nations Human Rights Office published on its official account on Twitter a picture of Sheikha Latifa accompanied by Bachelet in front of the Galeries Lafayette store, which is located in the most prestigious neighborhoods of Paris.

Commenting on the photo, the UN office said: "Michelle Bachelet has met Dubai’s Sheikha Latifa, at latter’s request, in Paris. After introduction with Latifa’s legal advisor, the High Commissioner & Latifa met in private. Latifa conveyed to the High Commissioner that she was well & expressed her wish for respect for her privacy." Princess Latifa's representatives issued a statement saying: "The aim of this meeting was for the Sheikha to affirm her right to have a private life following continued media speculation about her."

In complete contrast, Maryam and Amina were not met by anyone after the release of their voice recordings, and instead of releasing them in 2020, when their sentences were supposed to end, they were tried again for an additional 3 years in prison.

This contradiction in the authorities’ violent handling of Maryam and Amina’s voices leaks, and their -seemingly- gentle handling of Sheikha Latifa’s leaks, adds a new violation to the UAE’s human rights record. Because being from the ruling family means that you are imprisoned in a luxurious villa, that you will not be prosecuted, and if you are protesting your treatment, the senior UN officials will be brought in to make sure that you are receiving excellent treatment, and then you will be released.

As for the teacher Amina Al-Abdouli, this means that you will be imprisoned for five years because of a tweet, and if you think about talking about conditions of your detention, you will be taken to an unknown location and tried again, and you will not be allowed to meet anyone, not the UN staff, not even your family.

The story of Sheikha Latifa not only revealed the contradiction of the authorities, but also revealed that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was dragged behind the selectivity of the UAE in its handling human rights causes, which made it subject to criticism, as some saw this as a promotion by the Commissioner’s office of the UAE’s narrative that Sheikha Latifa is not detained or hijacked.

In the summer of 2018, Sheikha Latifa has taken a photo with Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Robinson described her as a "troubled young woman" who regretted trying to escape. After criticism and questions for Robinson, she retracted her statements, claiming that she had been misled by Princess Latifah's family.

A few days ago, the High Commissioner returned to raise controversy again in the case of Sheikha Latifa, after the photos that were published of the meeting between Bachelet and Sheikha Latifa in Paris. The problem was not in the meeting itself, but the statements of the Office that “Latifa is fine.” And she wants to respect her privacy.” this made Bachelet under criticism, as she seemed to be a spokesperson for the UAE authorities in a case full of doubts.

In addition, despite calls for a boycott issued by human rights organizations, Robinson’s participation in the Dubai Expo, and her meetings with Sheikha Latifa, do not appear to be consistent with the principles of human rights sponsored by the United Nations.

The basic principle that the organization should reject such politicized meetings, and to clearly stipulate that it be allowed to visit all detainees, but what the commissioner did, is to visit Sheikha Latifa in a luxury villa in Dubai and then appear with her in one of the prestigious Paris neighborhoods, at a time when she cannot visit any detainee in UAE prisons, and this indicates a lot of double standards.

The United Nations was supposed to refuse to participate in such meetings, except on the condition that the UAE authorities allow it to visit the remaining detainees, and allow the special rapporteurs and UN teams to carry out their work. It is illogical for Abu Dhabi to refuse the visit of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and allow the commissioner to visit Sheikha Latifa.