Matthew Hedges: Jailed British academic in UAE having panic attacks as health deteriorates

Hopes of diplomatic solution raised as Jeremy Hunt  hails 'constructive conversation' ahead of UAE statement

Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada
Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada

A British academic accused of spying by the United Arab Emirates is suffering panic attacks after being given a life sentence by a court in the country, his wife has said.

Daniela Tejada said she had spoken briefly to her husband Matthew Hedges, who told her his health was deteriorating in jail.

It comes as the UAE said it was “studying” a request for clemency from Mr Hedges’ family.

Sulaiman Almazroui, the UAE’s ambassador in London, said in a statement on Friday morning British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had held a “good” conversation with his counterpart.

Mr Almazroui, who also held a private meeting with Mr Hunt on Thursday, restated previous assurances that the two countries had an “extremely close partnership”, adding that he hoped an “equable” solution could be reached.

Mr Hunt tweeted on Thursday evening he had a “constructive conversation” with his UAE counterpart.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said Abu Dhabi is “determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally” and it hopes to find “an amicable solution” to the case.

Ms Tejada said she has won assurances from Mr Hunt the government is “now standing up for” her husband, after she claimed it had initially put foreign relations above his liberty.

But following a five-minute phone call with her partner on Thursday night, she said Mr Hedges remains fearful he will have to serve the entirety of his sentence.

“He is not well. He mentioned that his panic attacks have become worse than they were before. However, he did say that he has access to a doctor,” she told the BBC on Friday morning.

Family handout of Daniela Tejada and Matthew Hedges

“I wasn’t allowed to know where he is, so still don’t know anything about his whereabouts, and I think he’s just absolutely terrified at the idea of having to spend the rest of his life behind bars for an offence he hasn’t committed.”

With the UAE ambassador in London expected to make a statement on the case, there are hopes the Gulf state will show some leniency after an official said the nation wants to find an “amicable solution”.

However the official – Abdulla Al Naqbi, the head of the foreign ministry’s legal department – added that “compelling and powerful evidence” had proved espionage, including computer analysis and an alleged confession.

Ms Tejada has stressed her husband’s innocence and said the Middle East expert, who was finishing his thesis, was the victim of a “misunderstanding” while researching.

Mr Hunt said he has seen “absolutely no evidence” to support claims Mr Hedges was spying when he visited Dubai earlier this year, and he threatened “serious diplomatic consequences” if he is not freed.

The cabinet minister said on Thursday night he had had a “constructive conversation” with his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed.

But this came after he had previously voiced surprise at the life sentence handed to Mr Hedges on Wednesday, which came despite his discussions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed a little over a week earlier.

Mr Hedges, originally from Exeter, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on May 5.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said there is “no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research”.

Mr Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and Ms Tejada has launched a petition on Change.org which has gathered more than 170,000 signatures.

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