Is the unadulterated luxury of Dubai little more than a gilded prison? New and very concerning allegations have been made by a UK-based charity, ‘Detained in Dubai’ – which, as the name suggests helps foreign nationals who have been arrested and held by authorities in the Gulf Kingdom.
A little less than a month ago, a Swedish 44-year old mother of three and practising dentist, Dr Ellie Holman arrived in Dubai for a short holiday where she would be able to catch up with friends who live in the city. But rather than spending her time soaking up the sun, Holman and her 4-year old daughter were locked up in squalid conditions according to David Haigh, who’s a partner at Detained in Dubai.
It all started on 13th July, when Holman and her youngest daughter, Bibi jumped on an Emirates airline aircraft in London for the 7-hour flight to the United Arab Emirates. Holman had been to the country plenty of times before but on this occasion, Detained in Dubai says the professional mother was arrested on spurious charges.
“Dr Holman made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of an immigration official, who has had her jailed, denied food, water and air conditioning in police detention, together with her 4-year-old child who had no idea why she was being punished,” the legal charity explains.
Apparently, it started when an immigration official noticed an irregularity with her visa. Dr Holman is said to have had a single-entry visa which she thought actually allowed multiple visits. The immigration official is said to have demanded Holman and her daughter pay for an immediate flight back to where they come from – an issue that Holman was understandably upset about.
What’s confusing, however, is that as a Swedish national, Holman should have been able to get a multiple entry 90-day visit visa on arrival. It’s also unclear as to why Emirates didn’t check Holman’s travel documentation before allowing her to board the flight to Dubai.
Nonetheless, the immigration officer is said to have become upset at Holman challenging him – at this point, he asked whether she had been drinking. Dr Holman saw no reason to lie and admitted to having had a glass of wine on the flight – offered, for free, by Emirates cabin crew.
“The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading facade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors,” explains Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai.
“This is exampled by Emirates Airlines serving alcohol in flight, by bars at the airport, by hotels, restaurants and clubs serving drinks. 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.”
But Dr Holman made matters even worse for herself when she used her mobile phone to start filming what was happening – something she says she had no idea was illegal but is in fact, strictly against the law in the UAE unless you have the subjects express permission.
Dr Holman says she and her daughter her locked up for three days before eventually being given bail. She remains on bail in Dubai where legal expenses have so far reached £30,000 – she says the families life savings have been used up and there’s still no indication of when the case might come to an end.
“If a country will jail a mother and child over a glass of wine provided by their own airline, this should serve as a grave warning,” Haigh commented. The charity says during police tests, Holman’s blood alcohol level was returned as 0.04% –
Since 2006, Emirates has invested over $750 million USD on an extensive wine and Champagne collection. According to the airline, over 80 wines are offered every day across Emirates’ global network.
It’s important to point out, that this is only one side of the story. Neither the airline or Dubai authorities have commented on the story. Emirates serve alcohol to millions of passengers every year – the vast majority without incident – although this isn’t the first time that concerns have been raised about the sometimes uncomfortable compromise between Western norms and traditional values in the UAE.