The mother that was jailed in Dubai for drinking a glass of wine on her flight from London has finally told the full story of the horrific experience.
Dr. Ellie Holman says that she was held at a prison for three days, and she had her hair pulled, she was spat at, and she feared that she would be r*ped. She says that she had been trolled online since returning.
The 44-year-old mother was locked up together with her 4-year-old daughter, and she describes the treatment in the Dubai prison as “inhuman”.
‘The last four weeks have been hell for me and my family. 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.” – says Dr. Holman
She is a registered dentist who now works as an aesthetics specialist, and she was finally released on Sunday.
Her reunion with her fiance Gary and three young children at Gatwick Airport had been very emotional. She was released after the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, intervened and ordered that she be released.
Dr. Holman was born in Iran and raised up in Sweden, and she has been living in the U.K. for almost 20 years.
Despite the three days in jail, she lived under house arrest in the Arab kingdom for a month. She was told that 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 adds.
The Dubai Government gave her flowers and fast food for the children before she flew home, and they also paid for the flight. However, they also issued a statement that the mother-of-three swore at officials, used an out-of-date passport to enter the country and filmed them with a cell phone camera.
They made no mention on the charge of drinking, however, which made the headlines across the world. The state-owned press reported that she had been giving illegal Botox treatments in the UAE in the past, but she completely dismissed that. She was simply arriving for her five-day holiday when she was arrested, and she had only given treatments with Botox to friends in the past.
“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?”
Dr. Holman was offered a single glass of red wine to accompany her in-flight meal on the eight-hour flight, and she accepted it. She also adds that she has flown to Dubai numerous times, and she regularly has a drink on the flight.
‘Everyone else on the flight was drinking with their meal. It is what happens.’
She handed over her Iranian passport at the immigration desk at Dubai International airport, only to be told by the officer that her visa had already been used two months earlier. He advised her to get a transit visa which would allow her to stay for her five-day trip.
A different immigration officer, however, just looked at her Iranian passport and told her: ‘You get a ticket and go on a flight home.’
He was very close to her face she could feel his spit on her face. He was very angry, rude, and aggressive and he was jabbing her finger in her face.
She says that he looked at her like she was the dirt under his shoes, and she thinks it was because she was from Iran. He might not have reacted the same way if she was a European woman. She got scared, so she pulled off her cell phone and started filming the officer, which inflamed the situation even more.
She was immediately surrounded by 20 other officers, and someone asked her if she had consumed any alcohol on the flight. When she told them she had one glass of wine, they told her that she is drunk, took away her phone and arrested her for consuming alcohol, swearing at an official and illegally filming.
More than a dozen officers physically lifted her and carried to the cell, while her daughter was crying while trailing behind.
“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.”
They were held in the cell and denied any food or water. When Bibi, her daughter, asked to use a toilet, she was denied permission and forced to urinate on the floor.
When they were taken to the police station several hours later, Dr. Holman was told that she had to take a breathalyzer test. However, she was also told that she was going to jail whether she refused to take the test or not.
She took the breathalyzer, but even though she demanded to see the result, she was taken to prison. Now she knows that it showed 0.04 percent, but at that moment they refused to tell her that.
A few moments later she was taken to prison, and the officers showed her her cell containing four bunk beds and holes for toilets.
Dr. Holman and her daughter Bibi were kept in the prison for 3 days and were forced to attend a roll call in which all of the prisoners 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 her that she had been r*ped while being in prison, and Dr. Holman feared that it might happen to her too. Thankfully, nothing occurred.
The guards referred to her as “that Iranian woman” all the time, and they never used her name.
The other women in the prison showed her and Bibi kindness that helped them soften the blow of their time there. They raised money to buy crisps for Bibi, and left them under her mattress. Dr. Holman says that she can’t help them enough for their kindness.
Her partner Gary flew to Dubai and immediately contacted the British council to try and secure her release. Neither the British council nor the Swedish embassy helped her.
Eventually, she was allowed out of prison but kept under house arrest at her friend’s property, and told to hire herself a lawyer. Bibi flew back to their home in Kent, England, with Gary.
Dr. Holman was told that she had to pay £40,000 (~$50,000) to the immigration officials and they had sworn that the case would be annulled.
She decided to stop using the lawyer and to contract the Detained in Dubai group to see if they could help. She eventually received a telephone call after MailOnline published her situation last week and was told that the country’s ruler would sort out her problem. She also received an apology and was told that she can leave on the first available flight back to London.
The experience left her needing anti-anxiety medication, and Bibi is now too afraid to sleep.
“I used to love going to Dubai where I have many friends, but I will never go back. If I had known I could be arrested for having a single drink on the plane then I would never have touched a drop.” – she adds.