Matthew Hedges: UAE sentences British academic to life in jail on spying charge

Matthew Hedges was accused of ‘spying for a foreign country, jeopardising the military, political and economic security of the state’

Richard Hall
Beirut
Wednesday 21 November 2018 12:32
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Matthew Hedges: UK raising British academic's life sentence 'with the Emirati authorities at the highest level', Theresa May says

A British student has been sentenced to life in jail in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spying for the UK government, with London promising "serious diplomatic consequences."

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old student at Durham University who went to the country to research his PhD thesis, was handed the sentence at an Abu Dhabi court in a hearing that lasted less than five minutes, and with no lawyer present.

His wife Daniela Tejada, who was present at the court room, said she was in “complete shock”.

“This has been the worst six months of my life, let alone for Matt who was shaking when he heard the verdict,” she said in a statement. “The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice. Our nightmare has gotten even worse.”

She added: “Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them. This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no one taking Matthew’s case seriously. The British government must take a stand now for Matthew, one of their citizens.”

Today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom 

Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary 

British prime minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the verdict. “We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level,” she told parliament.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been involved with the case over the past few months, said: “Today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom. I have repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries.”

He later tweeted: "We have seen no evidence to back up charges against him ... UAE claim to be friend & ally of the UK so there will be serious diplomatic consequences. Unacceptable."

Mr Hedges was detained in May at Dubai airport as he was leaving the country following a research trip, and held in solitary confinement for five months. During that time he was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access. A representative for the family said that his mental and physical health has “seriously deteriorated” during his detention.

UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said Hedges was accused of “spying for a foreign country, jeopardising the military, political and economic security of the state”.

Mr Hedges has denied the charges, and maintains that he was in the country to research the impact of the Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policy.

Matthew’s wife has made repeated appeals to the UK government to intervene. In a statement released last month, she said: “Matt is a man of integrity and principle. He has a brilliant academic mind and an impeccable track record. He is kind and caring and greatly loved and respected. Please send him home.”

Mr Hunt said previously the UK government was “very worried” by the case and he has personally spoken with the UAE foreign minister twice about it.

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“We are very concerned to make sure there is proper due process, the court system is fair and that Matthew Hedges is treated properly and humanely and that we get a just outcome,” the foreign secretary said in October.

Middle East minister Alistair Burt also travelled to the UAE to intervene on his behalf.

More than 100 academics have signed a petition calling for Mr Hedges’ release, and deriding his treatment by authorities as “degrading and inhumane”.

“Not only is he an innocent man being held unjustly, but it also places into question existing and future academic ties between the UK and the UAE,” said the petition, signed by academics from American, British and Spanish universities.

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