Wine on Emirates Flight, Jail in Dubai

by John Harper

A Swedish woman ended up in United Arab Emirates custody after she consumed a glass of wine on her flight from London to Dubai, the Guardian reports, citing legal group Detained in Dubai.

Ellie Holman, who lives in Kent, U.K., was held in a cell, with four-year-old daughter, without water or a toilet for three days after stepping off her Emirates flight. Her daughter was left to defecate on the floor, per The Guardian, and the family wasn’t told that Holman’s husband had arrived looking for them.

The dentist got in a tiff with immigrations officials when asked to purchase an additional visa. She told reporters that she was then asked whether she had consumed alcohol, and placed under arrest.

Holman has since returned to the U.K. after spending a month under house arrest, and told the Daily Mail she has been subject to death threats. UAE’s national media later published accounts of the incident that claimed Holman was attempting to distribute botox in the country, citing social media posts she made about her Dubai trip. However, Holman operates a dental practice in the United Kingdom.

Drinking alcohol is widely illegal in Dubai, with the exception of licensed clubs, hotels and Emirates Airline. Only those with a special license can buy alcohol in a store (tourists cannot). Being under the influence of alcohol after leaving one of those venues is strictly illegal, and prosecution is selective, according to an analysis by The Mirror.

Woman arrested Emirates wine

Emirates A380 bar – Legal. Walking into Dubai after consuming the whole bar – Illegal.

For those who have developed a sense of the United Arab Emirates vis-a-vis first class reviews and hotel documentaries, this encounter may seem outlandish. It is far from unusual, however, and should serve as a stark reminder that the UAE, Dubai and surrounds are anything but a gleaming reincarnation of Manhattan.

Holman has said she attempted to film a confrontation with immigration officials. She is hardly without company, however.

Last year a British tourist was sentenced to three years in prison during a Dubai visit. His offense, grazing another man’s hip while carrying a drink at a bar, was described by state prosecutors as pubic indecency.

That man, Jamie Herron, was released only after Sheikh Mohammad intervened. Perhaps the situation didn’t comport with his administration (and airline’s) pricy influencer marketing campaigns.

The United Arab Emirates and neighboring gulf states project a worldwide image, partly through luxurious state-funded airlines, of modernity and cross-cultural competence. In practice, these states enact much of the same strictly repressive social legislation as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

The most commented-upon article on this website features stories of Qatar Airways employees. Mostly flight attendants, these women were guarded in hotel rooms by airline minders throughout the night, required permission from the airline to marry, and weren’t allowed to have casual sex.

That article was published in response to an investigation by a Swedish newspaper. It has since been corroborated by dozens of former Qatar Airways employees who have responded.

These incidents serve as reminders that, despite growing trade and an alluring air travel business, Gulf States remain on the far side of a cultural chasm with the west.

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Andy September 10, 2018 - 12:12 pm

Yeah I seriously doubt the sources or full info here. I remember reading a month ago there was more to this than met the eye. Perhaps (and I mean perhaps) she was hammered and acted poorly. That ain’t cool in Dubai. Unlike quoted… It is 100% legal to drink alcohol in hotels, on flights etc. just nowhere else, and it certainly isn’t allowed to intoxicated or abuse an Emirati official. I’m not Emirati or Muslim and I love drinking wine! Just know how to behave.

While as a father my heart breaks for the daughter, I’m guessing you, the author, really doesn’t know what you’re talking about and reacting to a super right wing paper’s “story” ie the Mirror which is the equivalent of Breitbart “news”

John Harper September 10, 2018 - 12:18 pm

Hi Andy,

Thanks for reading. This story was reported by The Guardian, as mentioned in the first paragraph, not The Mirror.


Andy September 10, 2018 - 12:27 pm

Well you’re right of course, I should have been clear. You also cited the Mirror however. There’s a lot of scaremongering misinformation there John. It’s illegal to drink in hotels etc. wow if that was true I’d have a few life sentences over the past decade. I’m extremely careful when visiting and am conscious it’s a Muslim country. But so is the Maldives. Both places I’ve been welcomed with relatively open arms. You are spreading a sensationalist story that I doubt greatly.

Bill September 10, 2018 - 12:32 pm

You should perform a modicum of rumor verification prior to writing a post like this.

She said she was jailed because of a drink.
On the contrary, she was jailed for breaking the entering the country with the intent of breaking their laws (laws intended to protect their citizens), and being a jerk when asked to provide valid travel docs (which she did not have).
She was advertising medical procedures without a license online to be performed while in the country, and then became abusive with border authorities when they wouldn’t accept her expired Swedish passport, nor her Iranian passport without UAE visa.

Makes me question whether they really withheld toilet facilities.

John Harper September 10, 2018 - 12:39 pm

Hi Bill,
The information you have provided here has been reported only by national UAE media outlets, citing government officials. I don’t find this account credible or convincing, however. The only evidence they provided for her medical procedures were social media posts she made about visiting Dubai. They mentioned her profession, the aesthetics clinic she runs in the U.K. vitamin supplements, and other things, but not botox. There was no sale advertised or anything, just a post that she would be in the city.

None of these facts were presented by officials until she had already left the country. It makes no sense to suggest that this would have been the basis for her detention over one month after the fact.

Rather, her charges related to intoxication were dropped by prosecutors and officials issued an apology.


WR2 September 10, 2018 - 2:33 pm

I am continually amazed how some bloggers glamorize the national airlines of countries that have no tolerance for homosexuality, other religions, freedom of speech, or basically any western values, and continue to be state sponsors of terrorism. I have no sympathy for those who choose to fund these countries and find themselves in trouble.

Omar September 10, 2018 - 11:52 pm

I practiced law in Dubai back in the 80s, and have returned since to visit. While this isn’t the first sensationalized report of “egregious intolerance” by western standards, it struck me as prevarication in the extreme, as it would anyone familiar with the place. It is true that some restrictions are in place that pay lip service to Muslim locals, who amount to less than 15% of the population. The thrust of government policy however is a mad dash to emulate Hong Kong in just about every way. I have visited jails, dealt with local police, and freely consumed alcohol while muslim (the non-observant kind) and know from hands-on experience that Dubai officials wouldn’t be caught dead doing what has been imputed to them. They would in fact fear retribution if they did. This one story certainly beats them all by a mile, no less.
Britons flock to Dubai by the thousands to make a buck. I worked with them. Some have it so good they never leave. Others fail, and go back home to vent their frustration. Their fables are regularly lapped up in the media by bigots of the right and anti-imperialists of the left; strange bedfellows indeed.

John Harper September 11, 2018 - 1:38 pm

When looking at all of the available information in this case, I think this highlights a case of selective prosecution that we see regularly in foreign detainment cases in this region.
Selective prosecution on the basis of sex laws and alcohol consumption laws is of course kin to selective prosecution of marijuana and other drug possession laws in the United States. Police often use these laws to detain people who they simply don’t like, who frustrate them, for which they have no other cause to detain.

In another note, I think it’s rather petty to launch ad-homonym attacks against an imaginary class of people (bigots and anti-imperialists in the media) whom you neither know nor have engaged. Particularly as you seem to have had the privilege of experiencing so much of the world, I find that disappointing.


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