Pardon for Durham University student given life in prison for ‘spying’ in UAE

Matthew Hedges, 31, was initially sentenced to life in prison in United Arab Emirates (UAE) and later pardoned on November 26. The Durham University academic had gone to UAE in May on a field trip. He was arrested at Dubai Airport over ”spying” claims. He had gone to the Middle East nation to interview various sources on the country’s foreign policy (the research was part of his PHD thesis). It was not clear what Hedges had been accused of but his colleagues claimed UAE authorities believed he was a spying agent of Qatar.

During his arrest, the Brit academic was made to sign documents that were in Arabic language (even though he does not speak Arabic), which were used as his confession statement. Hedges was taken to a solitary confinement in UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, where he stayed for 5 months. At the confinement in Abu Dhabi, Hedges was permitted to call his mother once. However, he was allowed to call his wife, Daniela Tajeda, towards the end of his confinement. He also received visits from officials of British Embassy in UAE.

Jeremy Hunt, British foreign secretary, revealed he had close contact with UAE foreign minister. The British government was also monitoring Hedges’ situation in UAE. Hunt claimed that even though UAE has a judicial process it abides by, it was his duty to make sure Hedges, a British citizen, like any other Brit in a foreign land, had due process in UAE. British legal experts including family law solicitors Manchester services were interested in this case.

Court session
Hedges was presented at a Federal Court in UAE, the attorney general of UAE, Hamisi Shamsi, said that the accused had been charged with spying for another nation. However, the attorney general did not disclose the name of the foreign nation, Shamsi further stated that Hedges provided sensitive security information of UAE to third parties.

During his trial, the judge sentenced him to life in prison. Further, the attorney general revealed that the prison sentence was not final. According to UAE laws, the defendant has a right to appeal the court’s verdict before the Federal Supreme Court.
Prior to Hedges’ release, the British Government had warned UAE that there would be ”repercussions” in the event the Gulf State sentenced the student to life in prison. Hunt urged UAE to reconsider the verdict, failure to which diplomatic relations would be strained between the two countries. Hunt raised Hedges issue at the highest level of governance in UAE (had spoken to Crown Prince and Foreign Minister). In his view, the court verdict was not what the Foreign Secretary expected of a trusted partner and friend of UK.

Hedges was pardoned as part of series of orders of UAE’s National Day celebrations. He arrived at Heathrow airport and was received by his wife Daniela. He has since thanked his wife for her support since she had mounted a campaign to free him while in UAE. Matthew Hedges’ confinement raised concerns among scholars on how safe are researchers operating in foreign countries collecting data. Hedges case draws links with that of Giulio Regeni (Cambridge University researcher), who was killed in Cairo, Egypt while studying the trade movement in the North African nation.