Swedish woman detained in UAE, with four-year-old daughter, for 'drinking glass of wine' returns home

Swedish woman detained in UAE, with four-year-old daughter, for 'drinking glass of wine' returns home
A Swedish woman was detained in a UAE 'hell hole' jail for drinking a glass of wine on her flight to the Gulf state.
4 min read
12 August, 2018
Holman said she was held for three days by UAE authorities [Facebook]
A Swedish woman and her four-year-old daughter were reportedly held in a filthy cell in the UAE for three days after she revealed to a customs officer she had consumed a glass of wine on her flight to Dubai, UK media have reported.

UK-based dentist Ellie Holman said she was arrested shortly after she arrived in the Gulf state and admitted to an immigration official that she had drank a complimentary glass of wine on board her Emirates flight to the UAE - where there are strict rules on alcohol consumption.

Holman - who has since returned to the UK - said she was held in a cell with her daughter and denied water. and claimed she was forced to scrub toilets and floors during the detention period.

She said they both couldn't stomach the food that "smelled like garbage" provided to them, and confined to a hot "foul smelling" cell, with a "filthy" mattress.

Her daughter was "terrified" by the experience and wept regularly, and had to use the floor as a toilet. She was not allowed to notify her family about her detention, Holman claims.

"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, according to The Telegraph.

"The food (we were given) smelled like rotting garbage and neither Bibi (her daughter) or I could face trying it. I stayed awake for the whole three days."

She was held after she arrived in the UAE and was told her visa was not valid.

When Holman asked to purchase a new visa, she said the official was rude to her so she proceeded to film the incident, which is an offence in the UAE.

She was then asked if she had consumed alcohol and told the customs officials she had drank a glass of wine on her flight, leading to her detention.

After three days in jail, with her mobile phone and passport confiscated, she was deported back to the UK.

Detained in Dubai said the UAE has a deliberately misleading policy on alcohol, which can be used nefarious purposes.

"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," Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained in Dubai said.

"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."

Other incidents of Westerners being arrested for alcohol consumption in the UAE have been reported, despite Dubai marketing itself as jet-setting, socially liberal - and somewhat hedonistic - destination.

Holman's ordeal was the latest holiday horror story to emerge from the UAE.

Although Dubai later dropped the charges against her and allowed her to leave the country, Holman claims she spent around $38,000 in legal fees and lost income.

The UAE claimed that UK media claims that alcohol is illegal were untrue, and she was held deported for being "abusive" to airport staff and photographing officials, according to The National.

Dubai officials allege that her Swedish passport expired in June and then was angered that after producing a second Iranian passport she was told a new visa would only be valid for 96 hours, shorter than the five days she planned to stay in Dubai.

The UAE daily reported that drinking alcohol "is not an offence nor a reason for her detention".

The UK foreign office states on its website for citizens travelling to the UAE the laws are more complex.

"Liquor licences are not available to non-residents, but it is possible for tourists and visitors to buy and drink alcohol in licensed venues, such as hotels, restaurants and clubs," the foreign office states.

"You should be aware that it is a punishable offence under UAE law to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public." 

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