UK government 'failed' academic jailed in UAE, wife says

UK government 'failed' academic jailed in UAE, wife says
Daniela Tejada accused the Foreign Office of putting its diplomatic interests above the welfare of her husband Matthew Hedges who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
3 min read
22 November, 2018
The wife of a British academic Matthew Hedges who was sentenced to life for spying in the United Arab Emirates accused the Foreign Office on Thursday of ignoring her pleas for help.

The jail term handed to the 31-year-old Durham University student in a five minute hearing at which he had no legal representation shocked Britain and put political pressure on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

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

Hedges's wife Daniela Tejada said upon her return from Dubai that the Foreign Office was putting its diplomatic interests above those of an innocent citizen who was placed under arbitrary arrest.

"I got the impression that they were putting their interests with the UAE above a British citizen's rightful freedom and his welfare and his right to just a fair trial, just to freedom," Tejada told BBC Radio's Today programme.

"They were stepping on eggshells instead of taking a firm stance."

Hedges was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May while researching the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

Hunt began to speak out about the case after Hedges's family went public with news of his arrest in October.

The scholar was released on bail on 29 October, after six months' solitary confinement, and top British officials appeared stunned by Wednesday's court decision.

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".

Hunt himself issued a statement minutes after the sentencing saying he was "deeply shocked".

Tejada said she pleaded with the Foreign Office to force the UAE to release Hedges from solitary confinement throughout his pre-trial detention.

"They just disregarded my requests. They said that it wasn't part of their job, that it wasn't part of their duty."

She added: "I believe they should have taken a firmer stance from the beginning, if not publically then through their private representations.

British student Matthew Hedges's UAE jail sentence 'totally unacceptable' - Jeremy Hunt

"This is something they failed to do throughout."

Her voice broke down several times as she described the fear that gripped her husband during the sentencing.

"He was very, very scared when he was standing in front of the judge," said Tejada.

"He started shaking when the translator told him the sentence. He actually had to ask to double-check if he had heard right."

Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor at the Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, toldThe New Arab Wednesday that while Hunt's warning to the UAE was quite strong, "it is still unlikely to cause a massive upset in UK/UAE relations".

"It is strained, but as the UK have clearly stated before, trade trumps human rights - especially with post-Brexit desperation to make up shortfalls caused by leaving the EU."

Hedges has 30 days to appeal the verdict. He denies the charges.

Agencies contributed to this report.