UK 'must take a stand' against UAE in student spy case

UK 'must take a stand' against UAE in student spy case
The UK government has been urged to act after the PhD student was jailed for life on charges of "spying for a foreign country".
3 min read
21 November, 2018
Matthew Hedges was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May [Twitter]
The UK's relationship with the United Arab Emirates "should not be business as usual", following the life sentence of British academic Matthew Hedges by an Abu Dhabi court Wednesday, his supporters have said.

The 31-year-old Durham University PhD student was convicted of "spying for a foreign country" in a five-minute court hearing without a lawyer, according to his family.

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt earlier warned the case will have "repercussions" for the longstanding Gulf ally, while Prime Minister Theresa May said the government would continue to press the matter at the highest level with the UAE. 

But Hedges supporters have urged stronger action.

"This was a grotesque mistrial and the treatment of Matthew Hedges should not be the behaviour Britain expects of an ally," Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said. "The UAE should release Matthew at once or face serious consequences. It should not be business as usual."

Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge, said the institution was "devastated" by the sentence.

"Following a period in which he was detained in conditions which breached his human rights this judgement has been delivered in the absence of anything resembling due process or a fair trial," the statement said.

"There has been no information given on what basis Matt was handed this sentence and no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research."

Hedges' family say the verdict was based on a false confession. During his detention, he was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access and made to sign a document in Arabic, which he cannot understand, that transpired to be an admission.

Following the verdict, his wife Daniela Tejada said she was in "complete shock".

"Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them," she said.

"This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no one taking Matthew's case seriously."

She said the British government "must take a stand now" and the UAE authorities "should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice".

Her husband shook his head as the sentence was read out, she said, adding: "I don't know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse."

Trade trumps human rights

Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor at the Hamad bin Khalifa University, told The New Arab 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.

"Undoubtedly Matthew is being used as some sort of bargaining chip, and the UAE are perhaps taking advantage of the UK's weaker international position to extract leverage. However, unless a back door deal is reached, it is unlikely this will seriously jeopardise UK/UAE relations."

Hedges, who was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May, has 30 days to appeal the verdict. He denies the charges.

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