Yesterday, like many websites and newspapers around the world, we reported the arrest and detention of mum of three and practising dentist, Dr Ellie Holman in Dubai. The case garnered extensive media attention with an eye-catching headline that Dr Holman and her 4-year old daughter were locked up simply because she had enjoyed a glass of wine during her Emirates flight from London Gatwick to Dubai.
There was, of course, much more to this story but unfortunately, many of the finer details got lost in a chorus of either disgust or scepticism. The fact that Dr Holman had been drinking alcohol may have played a part in her arrest although, it’s important to add that there were other very important factors.
This news story came to light on the back of a press release from the UK-based non-profit legal charity ‘Detained in Dubai’. The group has been a vehement critic of Dubai’s legal system and the conditions in which prisoners are held. Some of the charity’s workers have, in the past, themselves been held by the Dubai authorities – and even, they allege, tortured.
In yesterday’s article, we made it clear that Dr Holman’s account was just one side of the story – and clearly Detained in Dubai had its own agenda (presumably to secure Dr Holman’s release while also shining a spotlight on the perceived injustices of the UAE’s legal system).
Dr Holman admitted she got upset with an immigration officer when she arrived in the country. She said there was a verbal argument and further admits to using her mobile phone to film the interaction – a tactic Detained in Dubai says is recommended when dealing with law enforcement in Western countries (but one that Dr Holman didn’t realise was very much against the law in Dubai).
That didn’t stop critics crying foul – demanding that there must be “more to the story than meets the eye”. For its part, the Dubai government has now responded to the allegations with a detailed response of what exactly happened.
Dubai’s Attorney General, His Excellency Esam Issa Al Humaidan, said the incident “started with the arrival of the accused with her daughter from London Gatwick Airport on board an Emirates flight.”
“She attempted to enter the country using a Swedish passport, which had already expired on June 10, 2018. She was advised by the immigration officer that she could not enter the country with an expired passport. She then produced an Iranian passport, and was informed by the officer that she could enter the country by issuing a new temporary visa, which allowed a 96-hour stay, and had to change her departure flight according to the new visa.”
“Ms. Hollman refused angrily due to the additional payment fees the process would require, and proceeded to verbally insult the immigration officer and take photos of the officer via her phone.”
From this statement, it looks like the authorities were never concerned about whether Dr Holman had been drinking alcohol or not. Although, it’s worth pointing out that the immigration officer is always alleged to have used this as an excuse to initiate Dr Holman’s detention rather than the raison d’être of her arrest.
What’s really of concern is the way in which Dr Holman and her young daughter were treated after being arrested. The authorities say she was detained for just 24-hours, “taking into full account and consideration of her 4-year-old daughter.”
Dr Holman says she and her daughter were held in custody for 3-days – the conditions were filthy, the food inedible and no change of clothes were provided. Dr Holman was forced to clean toilets during her time in jail and her daughter is now traumatised.
Even more concerning is an allegation that law enforcement took a blood sample from Dr Holman using a reusable needle – with no guarantee it was sterile.
Here’s the thing – public officials shouldn’t expect or be expected to put up with abuse (no matter how strongly the aggrieved party feels about their issue). And visitors to a country should absolutely respect local rules and customs. That’s an uncompromising given.
Yet that being said, we can’t simply ignore this incident or wash our hands of the apparent human rights violations. Most travellers to the UAE will never have a problem – and will most likely have a trip of a lifetime. A small minority, however, may fall foul of a law they never even knew was a crime.
If you’re planning to visit or move to the UAE you can find out more about the local rules and customs by either visiting the U.S. State Department, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth travel advice website or the official Dubai government website.
The legal case against Dr Holman has now been dropped on the back of the media coverage of her case. The authorities say she will now be deported from the country.