A mother was detained in Dubai for three days with her four-year-old daughter after a drinking a complimentary glass of wine on a flight from London, it is claimed.
Swedish dentist Ellie Holman, who lives in Sevenoaks in Kent with her English partner Gary and their three children, was initially denied water and made to clean toilets while in custody, according to human rights group Detained in Dubai.
The non-governmental organisation (NGO) formed to help people held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it is representing the woman and her daughter Bibi, who was “terrified” by the experience.
The 44-year-old was arrested on July 13 after having one glass of wine on her eight-hour Emirates Airline flight to Dubai from London, a statement from the group said.
She was taken into custody after an immigration official questioned her about her visa and asked if she had consumed alcohol.
Ms Holman and her daughter were initially denied food, water and access to a toilet when they were held in a cell together for three days, the group claims.
She now faces being detained in Dubai for up to a year while awaiting a court hearing.
The group said she and Bibi were travelling to Dubai for a five-day break to visit friends, having visited a number of 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.
Ms Holman claims 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 with phones and passports confiscated before Ms 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.
Ellie takes her partner Gary’s surname but they are not legally married, Detained by Dubai said.
The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading facade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors
It a statement from the group, Ms Holman claims 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.
She said: “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.
“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 has been confiscated until the case is concluded. She said she has lost more than £30,000 in legal fees and missed work.
Ms Holman is now spending time with her other children Suri, nine, and Noah, eight, who have flown out to Dubai to see her while Gary returns home with Bibi.
Radha Stirling, 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.”
Ms Stirling called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the UK Government generally to do more to “protect” British nationals, and claimed airlines were “complicit” and needed to be held “accountable”.
Consular staff spoke to Mr Holman about the incident, advised him on procedures in Dubai and also spoke to UAE authorities to confirm Ms Holman and her daughter were being released, a UK Foreign Office spokesman said.
A Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman said the case had not been registered with them because they had not been contacted by Ms Holman.
Emirates airline has been contacted for comment.