British academic jailed as spy by UAE slams Edinburgh University for Emirati professor invite

British academic jailed as spy by UAE slams Edinburgh University for Emirati professor invite
2 min read
29 June, 2023
After spending eight months in an Emirati prison in 2018 on bogus charges of spying for the UK, Matthew Hedges has criticised the University of Edinburgh for inviting a scholar who supported his wrongful conviction to an academic forum.
Matthew Hedges was wrongfully arrested and then convicted by the UAE for spying, he was later pardoned [Getty]

A British academic wrongfully jailed for spying by the UAE on Tuesday criticised the University of Edinburgh for hosting an Emirati political scientist who vocally supported his detention.

Matthew Hedges was held in an Abu Dhabi prison for six months in 2018, after the then PhD student at Durham University was accused by Emirati authorities of working for British spy agency MI6.

After his arrest in Dubai, Hedges claims he was tortured, interrogated for up to 15 hours at a time and forced to take drugs, without any real access to legal counsel. He was convicted by a court to 25 years in jail for "spying for or on behalf of" the UK, but was later pardoned by the Emirati government.

At the time of his arrest, the Emirati scholar Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdullah took to social media and made inflammatory comments about Hedges case, accusing Hedges of living a double life and "pretending" to be an academic. In further posts, Abdalla called Hedges "a disgrace to academia" who "does not deserve my sympathy".

Legitimising 'despicable practices'

Abdalla was then invited to the University of Edinburgh to take part in forum called "Transformations in Times of Geopolitical Change", prompting claims by Hedges that the Scottish university is "legitimising" his accuser.

"On what basis can they legitimise this? Are they going to identify his support for despicable practices? How is this suitable? What does this say about Edinburgh University?" Hedges told The Times.

Hedges did not want the event cancelled, but rather wanted the academic to be scrutinised on academic freedom in the UAE and on how he came to know intimate details about Hedges case.

Abdulla claimed the British academic was "merely seeking publicity" by drawing attention to the issue.

"I think it is the country’s view [that Hedges] is 100 per cent certified a spy", Abdalla told The Times.

"He had a fair and transparent trial with British officials observing the details," Abdalla claimed, despite the fact that Human Rights Watch condemned the trial as a farce. 

He further stated that he would be happy to take any questions raised at the event.

The University of Edinburgh told The Times that they were "committed to upholding freedom of expression and academic freedom" and "facilitating a safe environment where members of our community can discuss and debate challenging topics".

Hedges later said he had "constructive conversations" with the university "who will be asking the presenter important questions to understand his true intentions and perspective".