British universities cut ties with UAE over student's jailing

British universities cut ties with UAE over student's jailing
The sentencing of PhD student Matthew Hedges on Wednesday shocked Britain and put political pressure on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to act.
2 min read
25 November, 2018
Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life in prison for "spying" [Twitter]
Universities where jailed British student Matthew Hedges studied have cut ties with the UAE over his conviction.

An Abu Dhabi court sentenced Hedges to life in prison on Wednesday for "spying for a foreign country".

Durham University, where Hedges was studying for his PhD, has suspended all field research in the UAE.

Lecturers at the University of Exeter, where the 31-year-old completed his Masters degree, have voted in favour of an academic boycott and called on the vice-chancellor to suspend all business partnerships with the Gulf state.

The decisions follow a similar motion at the University of Birmingham where staff voted to refuse to teach at the institute's Dubai campus or provide course materials and exam marking.

In an email to staff, Durham's vice-chancellor, Prof Stuart Corbridge, said: "We are advising a moratorium on all travel to the United Arab Emirates for our non-UAE staff and students until Matt is safely back home."

João Florêncio, the secretary of the Exeter branch of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "Our members are very worried about Matt Hedges’ predicament and the seeming curtailing of the academic freedom of colleagues travelling to the UAE for work.

"As such, our general meeting has unanimously called for an academic boycott of the UAE until the situation is satisfactorily resolved. That includes asking that the University of Exeter temporarily suspends its doctoral programme in Dubai and lobbies for the immediate release of Matt Hedges."

The sentencing of Hedges on Wednesday shocked Britain and put political pressure on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to act.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told a session of parliament she was "deeply disappointed" and instructed the Foreign Office to "continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emiratis".

Hedges's wife Daniela Tejada has accused the Foreign Office of putting diplomatic interests over her husband's rights. 

Britain views the UAE as a strategic Middle East ally which it supplies with arms.

Hedges was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May and held in solitary confinement until his court hearing six months later. He has denied the charges against him, with his family claiming he was forced to sign a confession in Arabic.