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.
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 the campaign 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 allegedly 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.
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 for up to a year while awaiting a court hearing.
The group said she and her daughter 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.
She filmed the encounter 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 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.
It a statement from the group, Holman 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.
“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.
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.”
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”.
Emirates have been contacted for comment. The FCO has advised that because Holman is not a British citizen she is not eligible for consular assistance.
Around 1.5 million British nationals visit the UAE every year, with the FCO claiming “most visits are trouble-free.”
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