Mother Jailed for 3-Days in Dubai for Drinking a Wine Glass Tells of Her Horrible Ordeal

Published August 15th, 2018 - 12:12 GMT
Ellie Holman a Swedish 44-year-old was arrested in Dubai. (Twitter)
Ellie Holman a Swedish 44-year-old was arrested in Dubai. (Twitter)

A mother who was jailed in Dubai for drinking a glass of wine on a flight from London has told for the first time the full story of her harrowing ordeal.

Dr Ellie Holman revealed how she was spat at, had her hair pulled and feared she would be raped while being held at a prison for three days. Since returning, she has been the target of smear stories and been trolled online, she said. 

The 44-year-old, who was locked up with her four-year-old daughter, describes her treatment in Dubai as 'inhuman', with the ordeal leaving her exhausted and taking anti-anxiety medicine.

'The last four weeks have been hell for me and my family,' she told MailOnline. 'I left to go on a holiday with my youngest daughter to a country I loved visiting and ended up in jail. 

'Nothing had prepared me for what happened, but my survival instinct kicked in and for my daughter's sake I had to be strong.

'It is like an out-of-body experience. I still can't believe that I spent three days in jail. I have never been in trouble in my life and yet here I was sharing a cell block with 30 other women. It is unreal. I feel like I will wake up from a bad nightmare.'

The registered dentist, who now works as an aesthetics specialist providing Botox injections and other treatments, was finally released on Sunday. 

She had an emotional reunion with her fiancé Gary and three young children at Gatwick Airport that night after the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, intervened and ordered her release.

Born in Iran and brought up in Sweden, Ellis has lived in Britain for almost 20 years and is engaged to be married to a Briton. 

As well as the three days in jail, she spent almost a month living under house arrest in the conservative Arab kingdom, uncertain of her future after being told she may have to wait a year for a court hearing.

'I was desperately missing my children and all I could think about was when I would see them again,' she said.

Now safely back at the family home in Sevenoaks, Kent, the mother-of-three agreed to speak to MailOnline to set the record straight about her arrest and detention. 

Before she flew home, the Dubai Government gave her a bunch of flowers and fast food for the children. They also paid for her flight home.

However, they also issued a statement claiming she had used an out-of-date passport to enter the country, swore at officials and filmed them on her mobile phone.

The Government made no mention of the charge of drinking, which made headlines around the world. They also said Ellie had been deported.

There have since been reports in the state-owned press that she gave illegal Botox treatments in the UAE in the past, something that she dismisses as a smear.

When she was arrested she was simply arriving for a five-day holiday with her youngest daughter, she said, and in the past had only given treatments to friends.

The Emerati authorities made no mention of the allegations of illegal treatments during her case, she added. 

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said: 'Dubai's government-controlled media has tried to distract the public from the core issue of the charges that were laid upon Ellie.'

The beautician said: 'They have lied to save face but all I have ever done is tell the truth. I accept my big mistake was to film the immigration officer. I now realise that was stupid and I should not have done that.

'But did that really warrant being jailed for three days with my daughter, being spat at and having my hair pulled?'

Since we first highlighted her plight, she has been bombarded with vile messages on social media from people mostly living in Dubai who accused her of lying, she said. 

Prison was last thing on Ellie's mind on July 13th when she flew from Gatwick on an Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai for a five-day break. 

On the eight-hour flight she was offered a single glass of red wine to accompany her in-flight meal.

'I enjoy a glass of wine with my meal and accepted it from the cabin crew. That was the only alcohol I had on the flight. I've flown to Dubai a dozen times and had a drink on the flight.

'Everyone else on the flight was drinking with their meal. It is what happens.'

At Dubai International airport, she handed over her Iranian passport at the immigration desk. The officer's computer told him that her visa had already been used two months earlier, which Ellie acknowledges was her mistake.  

He advised Ellie to get a transit visa, which would allow her to stay in the country for the duration of her five-day trip.

But then a different immigration officer took one look at her Iranian passport and told her: 'You get a ticket and go on a flight home.'

Ellie said: 'I did not swear and told him I was told I could get a transit visa. He just refused to listen and he was so close I could feel his spit on my face. He was jabbing a finger in my face and was rude and aggressive.

'He looked at me as if I was like the dirt under his shoes, and I think it was because I was from Iran. If it had been a European woman he might not have reacted in the same way.'

Ellie said she became afraid so she used her mobile phone to film the immigration officer. This inflamed the situation further.

Within seconds, she was surrounded by up to 20 others. One of the men asked her if she consumed any alcohol on the flight.

'I was being honest and told him about the glass of wine. That was it. He just said you are drunk. I told him I'd had one glass, but he would not listen.'

Ellie's phone was taken away and she was told she had been arrested for consuming alcohol, swearing at an official and illegally filming.

'I never swear in front of my children. I had my four-year-old daughter with me and I would never use bad language in front of her.

'People in Britain film police all the time. I was doing it for my own protection.'

Before she knew it, she was surrounded by more than a dozen officers who physically lifted her up and carried her to a cell while her weeping daughter trailed behind.

'My feet were off the ground,' she said. 'Someone spat at me and they were pulling at my hair. I was terrified and crying. Bibi was behind me and she was crying.

'It was awful and all I could think of was why I did not take up the offer to buy a ticket and go home. I kept on thinking, "what have I done?". All I could think off was poor Bibi and how confused and frightened she must be.'

The pair were held in a cell and denied any food or water. Bibi was refused permission to use a toilet and was forced to urinate on the floor.

After some time, a sympathetic guard allowed Ellie to contact her friend who was waiting in the arrivals hall and let her know she had been arrested.

Several hours later, Ellie and Bibi were taken to a police station where she was asked to take a breathalyser test.

'A woman said to me that I was going to jail whether I refused to take the test or took it,' she said. 'I knew then I was in big trouble and I was scared. They would not listen to me and had already made up their minds.'

Knowing she had had only a single glass of wine, Ellie took the breathalyser.

'I demanded to see the result but they refused and took me to prison,' she said. 'I now know it was 0.04 per cent, which is half the drink drive limit. That was what I had.

'As we drove through the prison gates, that was when it really hit me that I was in trouble. Until then I thought they would let me go, put us on a plane and that would be the end of it. I kept hoping that was what was going to happen.'

Instead, she was shown to a cell containing four bunk beds. The toilets were holes in the ground and she said the entire place was 'hot and foul smelling'.

They were kept in prison for three days. Each day at 5am, she and Bibi were woken with the other prisoners and forced to attend a roll call in which they had to shout out their names.

'There was no air conditioning in the cells, so the 30 women on the block would drag their mattresses out and sleep in the canteen area,' Ellie said. After that, her survival instinct kicked in.

'I didn't know how long I would be in prison, but I had to be strong for Bibi and not show that I was afraid,' she said.

'A pregnant woman told me how she had been raped while being held in the prison. I feared it could happen to me, but thankfully with Bibi with me all the time nothing occurred.

'The guards always referred to me as "that Iranian woman". They never used my name but just that I was Iranian. I know the two countries do not get on and I think that played big part in what happened.'

Ellie said the other woman, some of whom had overstayed their visas, showed her and Bibi kindness that help soften the blow of their time in jail.

'The food was disgusting but they used money to buy Bibi crisps and left them under the mattress for her,' she said. 'I cannot thank them enough for the kindness they showed.

'Bibi doesn't like spicy food but the only thing she had to eat was a pot noodle with chilli.

'She was so hungry she ate the noodles but after each mouthful would take a drink of water. It was heartbreaking to watch her doing that but she was so hungry she had to eat.'

Ellie's partner Gary flew to Dubai and contacted the British consul to try and secure her release.

'The consul made all the right noises but they were useless,' said Ellie. 'The Swedish embassy were also useless and did not want to help.' 

Ellie was eventually allowed out of prison but kept under house arrest at a property belonging to a friend. She was told to hire a lawyer. Gary flew back to their home in Kent with Bibi, who was reunited with her brother Noah, eight, and Suri, nine.

Ellie stayed at a friend's villa alone while her lawyer said he would work on getting the charges against her dropped.

She was told that if she paid £40,000 to the immigration official she was said to have sworn at, the case would be annulled.

'I stopped using the lawyer and contacted the Detained in Dubai group to see if they could help,' said Ellie.

After MailOnline publicized Ellie's plight last Thursday, she received a telephone call telling her the country's ruler would sort out the problem.

She also received an apology and told she could leave on the first available flight back to the UK.

'I cannot thank MailOnline enough for helping me come back home. Without the story being publicized and taken up by other media I might still be there,' she said. 

The experience of the past month has left Ellie needing anti-anxiety medication. She said Bibi is now too afraid to sleep on her on but is otherwise seemingly unscarred by her prison ordeal.

'I used to love going to Dubai where I have many friends, but I will never go back,' said Ellie.

'If I had known I could be arrested for having a single drink on the plane then I would never have touched a drop.'

The NGO Detained in Dubai said: 'Laws regarding alcohol are very confusing in Dubai and that is the problem. It is not illegal to drink in a licensed premises, such as a hotel, but as soon as you step out in public you can be arrested for having consumed alcohol or if you are deemed to be drunk.

'Elle was not drunk or aggressive. Her arrest highlights an issue that is an ongoing risk to travelers. Tourists can be charged with having alcohol in their bloodstream in public. They should be aware that they could be arrested the minute they leave for having alcohol in their blood.' 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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