A woman was detained in Dubai for three days with her four-year-old daughter after drinking a complimentary glass of wine on a flight from London, an NGO has said.
Ellie Holman, a dentist originally from Sweden who lives in Sevenoaks, Kent, with her English partner, Gary, and their three children, was denied water and made to clean toilets while in custody, according to the human rights group Detained in Dubai.
The NGO, formed to help people held in the United Arab Emirates, said it was representing the woman and her daughter Bibi, who was “terrified” by the experience.
Holman, 44, was arrested on 13 July after having one glass of wine on her eight-hour Emirates flight, the group said.
She was taken into custody after an immigration official questioned her about her visa and asked if she had consumed alcohol.
Holman and her daughter were initially denied food, water and access to a toilet while being held in a cell together for three days, the group said.
She faces being detained in Dubai for up to a year while awaiting a court hearing.
The group said Holman and her daughter were travelling to Dubai for a five-day break to visit friends, having visited several times before.
After landing, she was questioned by an immigration official, who said her visa was invalid and she must return to London immediately, the group said.
Holman claimed he was “dismissive and rude” when she asked if she could buy another visa, and was then questioned about her alcohol consumption, which she admitted.
She filmed him on her phone as evidence of his behaviour before learning this was an offence, and that it was illegal to drink alcohol, according to the group.
The pair were taken into custody and their phones and passports were confiscated before Holman was asked to give a blood sample to test for alcohol consumption. She is said to have been refused the chance to phone her partner and was then held in a cell.
In a statement from the group, Holman claimed the guards tried to rip out her hair extensions and described the prison as hot and “foul-smelling”. She said the pair were made to sleep on a “filthy” mattress and she was told to clean toilets and floors.
“My little girl had to go to the toilet on the cell floor. I have never heard her cry in the same way as she did in that cell,” she said.
“The food [we were given] smelled like rotting garbage and neither Bibi or I could face trying it. I stayed awake for the whole three days.
“By now, Gary knew something was wrong and had flown to Dubai to look for me. Friends had found out I was in jail and tried to visit. Nobody was allowed to see us. We were not even told.”
She was released on bail and told her passport would remain confiscated until the case was concluded. She said she has lost more than £30,000 in legal fees and missed work.
Holman is spending time with her other two children, who have flown out to Dubai to see her after Gary returned home with Bibi.
Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai, said: “The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading facade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors.
“Tourists cannot be blamed for believing that the Emirates are tolerant of western drinking habits, but this is far from reality.
“It is wholly illegal for any tourist to have any level of alcohol in their blood, even if consumed in flight and provided by Dubai’s own airline. It is illegal to consume alcohol at a bar, a hotel and a restaurant, and if breathalysed, that person will be jailed.”
Stirling has called on the Foreign Office and the UK government to do more to “protect” British nationals, and claimed airlines were “complicit” and needed to be held accountable.
The Foreign Office and Emirates have been contacted for comment.
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