British academic Matthew Hedges jailed for life in UAE for spying


Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada.
Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada.

In Summary

  • Matthew Hedges, 31, and a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University in England, was arrested on May 5 by UAE officials when he was leaving Dubai airport after a research trip.
  • Nikita Bernardi, a spokeswoman for the Hedges family, said that Hedges had been sentenced to "life in prison following a five-minute hearing in which he had no legal representation."
  • UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "deeply shocked and disappointed" by the verdict.

A British academic has been sentenced to life in prison for spying in the United Arab Emirates, according to a family spokeswoman.

Matthew Hedges, 31, and a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University in England, was arrested on May 5 by UAE officials when he was leaving Dubai airport after a research trip.

He had previously been held in solitary confinement for almost six months on spying allegations, but was released on bail last month.

Nikita Bernardi, a spokeswoman for the Hedges family, said that Hedges had been sentenced to “life in prison following a five-minute hearing in which he had no legal representation.”

Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada — who was present during the hearing — said she was in “complete shock” and that her husband was “shaking when he heard the verdict.”

“This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no one taking Matthew’s case seriously,” Tejada said.

“The British government must take a stand now for Matthew, one of their citizens. They say that the UAE is an ally, but the overwhelmingly arbitrary handling of Matt’s case indicates a scarily different reality, for which Matt and I are being made to pay a devastatingly high price.”

Tejada added that this has been “the worst six months” of her life.

“The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice. I am very scared for Matt. I don’t know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse,” Tejada said.

Verdict ‘will have repercussions’ for UAE/UK relations

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.
“Today’s verdict is not what we expected from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances,” Hunt said.

He added that the UK government has been in close contact with Hedges and his family, and will continue to do “everything possible” to support him.

“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, which has to be built on trust,” Hunt said.

“I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider.”

The UAE attorney general, Hamad Al Shamsi, announced on October 15 that “a British citizen, has been charged with spying for and on behalf of a Foreign State, jeopardizing the military, economy and political security of the UAE.”

Al Shamsi said that Hedges had entered the UAE “under the ‘cover’ of academic research.”

However, according to a letter posted on Tejada’s Twitter account in October, the 31-year-old had been in the UAE to conduct interviews for his PhD thesis examining civil-military relations in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Interrogated, held in solitary confinement

Hedges’ family spokeswoman said that during his first six weeks of detention, Hedges was “interrogated without a lawyer, or consular access, and held in solitary confinement.”

Bernardi added that he was forced to sign a document in Arabic.

“It has now been disclosed (it) was a confession statement,” she said, adding that the academic doesn’t speak or read Arabic.

Bernardi then went on to describe the remaining five months in which Hedges had continued to be held in solitary confinement.

“His mental and physical health seriously deteriorated. Matt was fed a cocktail of medication by the prison guards including Xanax, Valium and Ritalin,” she said.

“After four months of solitary confinement he began vomiting on a daily basis.”
On October 29, she said, Hedges was released with an ankle bracelet that monitored his movements and was told to stay in Dubai.

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