On Christmas Eve, three photos showing Sheikha Latifa alongside Mary Robinson, an ex-United Nations high commissioner for human rights, were released by the UAE government.
Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, fled the UAE in March and a video was circulated online in which she made allegations of abuse at the hands of her father.
Until the release of the images with Mrs Robinson, the 33-year-old royal had not been seen in public for more than nine months.
In an interview on Thursday, Mrs Robinson made claims that Latifa was mentally unwell and was in the “loving care of her family”.
Mrs Robinson had been criticised for “reciting” the lines put out by the UAE.
Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, whom Mrs Robinson said she had spoken to about the matter, criticised her comments.
He claimed Mrs Robinson said Latifa was “‘a troubled young woman’, though I would be troubled too if I had tried to escape a gilded prison and was kidnapped back into it”.
He continued: “I’m not sure that Mary Robinson, during such a short visit, would be capable of discerning the difference.
“A brief interview in the presence of the family that allegedly kidnapped her, after who knows what treatment she had been subjected to during the past nine months of incommunicado detention, is no way to find out.”
Radha Stirling, the chief executive of the Detained in Dubai group, said it was astonishing “the extent to which Ms Robinson appeared to be reciting almost verbatim from Dubai’s script”.
On Friday morning, Mrs Robinson made a statement through her foundation, defending herself.
She said: “I am dismayed at some of the media comments on my visit and I would like to say I undertook the visit and made an assessment, not a judgement, based on personal witness, in good faith and to the best of my ability.”
Mrs Robinson added she attended the meeting “without hesitation” and “received extensive briefings” when she arrived in Dubai.
She continued: “It was clear to me that Princess Haya had particular concern for the welfare of Sheikha Latifa whom she described as troubled and quite vulnerable.
“During my time with her, Sheikha Latifa presented as a very likeable young woman with a wide range of interests but her vulnerability was apparent.”
Speaking to the BBC Today programme on Wednesday, Mrs Robinson said she was invited by Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of the wives of the ruler of Dubai, who is not related by blood to Latifa, to “help with a family dilemma”.
She explained: “The dilemma was that Princess Latifa is vulnerable, she’s troubled, she made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape or was part of a plan of an escape.
“It’s under circumstances that I think need to be examined.”
Lawyers working on Princess Latifa’s case said they were sceptical of Mrs Robinson’s comments about the Emirati’s health.
They told Sky News: “Sheikha Latifa has undoubtedly been through a traumatic experience of being abducted and returned to the UAE.
“This has clearly had a very serious impact on her well being, despite being in good physical and mental health prior to her attempted escape, and appears now unable to speak for herself.”
Mrs Robinson also repeated claims made by the UAE that a ransom note for $300m was issued after Princess Latifa left the country.
She added: “I had lunch with her. She’s a very likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she’s receiving.”
After the meeting Mrs Robinson claims she sent a report to Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, as well as having a phone conversation with Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who preceded Ms Bachelet in the post.
She concluded: “I understand the concern and think it is a very complicated situation… but she is receiving psychiatric care and they don’t want her to endure any more publicity.
“She is now in the care, the loving care of her family.”
The UAE said the photos were taken on 15 December, some three weeks after it was reported that Mrs Robinson was quitting a high-profile event in Dubai in protest over the jailing of British academic Matthew Hedges.
In her comments to the BBC, Mrs Robinson said she would now be attending the event to promote her climate change book.
In response to Mrs Robinson’s comments, lawyers working on Latifa’s case said: “Despite the assurances given [by Mrs Robinson], serious concerns are still held.”
They added: “[It] is quite disappointing to see a person of Mrs Robinson’s stature brushing over what are very serious complaints.”
Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers also dispute the allegations of a ransom, calling them “wholly fabricated”.
They said: “No explanation has been provided as to why Sheikha Latifa has been hidden from view for nine months, and even now, is prevented from speaking to anyone.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have backed the dramatic version of events put forward by those on the escape boat with the Princess.
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