UAE holds British man in solitary confinement for five months on ‘spying’ charge

Matthew Hedges’s wife says his rights are being ‘violated on a daily basis’

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 11 October 2018 17:28 BST
Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada
Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada

A British university student has been held in solitary confinement in the United Arab Emirates for five months after he was accused of spying.

Matthew Hedges, a PhD student at Durham University, was reportedly seized at Dubai Airport on 5 May after travelling to the UAE on a research trip.

The 31-year-old student has been held without charge and his rights are being “violated on a daily basis”, according to his wife, Daniela Tejada.

He had travelled to the UAE to interview sources about the country’s foreign policy and security strategy.

The home secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is understood to have personally raised Mr Hedges’s case with his counterpart in the UAE amid concerns over his mental health and wellbeing.

British officials have visited Mr Hedges twice, although he is said to have been prevented from discussing his case with them.

Mr Hedges’s case was heard by a court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, but was adjourned until another hearing on 24 October.

Ms Tejada said all she wants is for her husband “to come home safely”.

“We cannot believe this has happened. We have been patient and done everything that has been advised, supposedly in Matt’s best interest, but we can no longer go on like this,” she said in a statement.

“Matt is a brilliant researcher, a man of integrity, and he has been punished in the most unjust and unfair way. His rights are violated on a daily basis and I am shocked that more has not been done to get him out

“Matt is a British citizen; he visited the UAE exclusively for academic research purposes and has been detained without charge for over five months in an undisclosed location. This is appalling and more must be done to ensure he is safely brought home.”

According to a profile on the Durham University website, Mr Hedges’s research includes Middle Eastern politics, the changing nature of war, civil-military relations and tribalism.

Ms Tejada said the UK should review its educational ties with the UAE in light of Mr Hedges’s detention, warning academic researchers like him “face great risks in the UAE”.

She said: “All I want is for Matt to come home safely. The longer this goes on, the longer the recovery from this traumatic experience will take.

“I am extremely worried about Matt’s mental health and general wellbeing. I am shocked and confused by the whole situation and will do everything I can to make sure he comes home soon.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “Our staff are supporting a British man following his detention in the UAE. We are assisting his family and remain in close contact with authorities.

“The foreign secretary has also personally raised his case with his Emirati counterpart.”

The vice-chancellor of Durham University said the university was “seriously concerned” about his welfare.

Professor Stuart Corbridge said: “We are aware that one of our PhD students, Matt Hedges, has been detained in Abu Dhabi.

“We are seriously concerned about Matt’s welfare and wellbeing and we remain in close contact with his family.

“We have raised these concerns with the UK ambassador to the UAE, the minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and local MPs, and we continue to offer our full assistance to efforts to bring Matt home safely and swiftly.”

Radha Stirling, from Detained in Dubai, a rights group which monitors and lobbies for foreigners unfairly held in the UAE, warned that those accused of national security violations in the Emirates can be held without charge indefinitely.

She said in the past the UAE authorities have locked up YouTube satirists as well as human rights activists on similar charges, while others have been arrested for publicly posting any criticism of the Emirati authorities – and even for complaining about the weather.

However Ms Stirling said detaining Mr Hedges, an academic, was “an escalation”.

“The UAE is extremely committed to controlling the way the country is perceived globally. They have hired PR firms in the US and UK to manage their image and counter any negative media coverage ... Detaining Matthew, and accusing him of a national security offence for conducting PhD research is an escalation of the UAE’s hostility towards the free flow of information,” she said.

“Matthew’s arrest sends a very dangerous signal to the academic community,” she added.

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