Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada.

Matthew Hedges jailed for life for spying in UAE

Matthew Hedges, a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University in England, was arrested on May 5 by UAE officials as he was leaving Dubai airport after a research trip.

A spokeswoman for the Hedges family said that he had been sentenced to “life in prison following a five-minute hearing in which he had no legal representation.”

The 31-year-old had previously been held in solitary confinement for almost six months on spying allegations, but was released on bail last month.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the verdict was not what the UK “expected from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom” and that it was “contrary to earlier assurances.”

Hunt said in a statement he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.

“I have repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries, which has to be built on trust,” he said.

“I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May also told Parliament that said she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the verdict.

“We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level,” she added.

‘British government must take a stand’

Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada — who was present during the hearing — said she was in “complete shock” and that her husband was “shaking when he heard the verdict.”

Hedges' wife, Daniela Tejada, said that the past six months have been the "worst" of her life.

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

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

“The British government must take a stand now for Matthew, one of their citizens. They say that the UAE is an ally, but the overwhelmingly arbitrary handling of Matt’s case indicates a scarily different reality, for which Matt and I are being made to pay a devastatingly high price.”

Tejada added that this has been “the worst six months” of her life.

“The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice. I am very scared for Matt. I don’t know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse,” Tejada said.

The UAE government did not immediately respond to CNN questions after the verdict.

Charged with spying ‘on behalf of a Foreign State’

The UAE attorney general, Hamad Al Shamsi, announced on October 15 that “a British citizen, has been charged with spying for and on behalf of a Foreign State, jeopardizing the military, economy and political security of the UAE.”

Hedges was in the UAE conducting interviews for his PhD thesis, his wife says.

Al Shamsi said that Hedges had entered the UAE “under the ‘cover’ of academic research.”

However, according to a letter posted on Tejada’s Twitter account in October, the 31-year-old had been in the UAE to conduct interviews for his PhD thesis examining civil-military relations in the wake of the Arab Spring.

‘Growing concern whether UAE is ally or threat’

Radha Stirling, chief executive of UK-based legal advice group Detained in Dubai, says she has seen a “growing concern” in the US and Australia “as to whether the Gulf nation is truly an ally or actually a threat to national interests.”

British academic accused of spying by UAE released on bail

“For the moment, the UAE consistently displays that reality is a complete contradiction to the modern image its PR companies try to push to Western tourists and investors.”

Stirling says while she expects that Hedges will launch an appeal, “we must remember that he will be facing a judicial system that is known for corruption, unfair trials, forced confessions and discrimination.”

She added: “The UK courts have repeatedly denied all extradition requests to the country on this basis and, in Matthew’s case, the ultimate determination of his matter will come down to the ruling party, not to the legal system.”

Interrogated, held in solitary confinement

Hedges’ family spokeswoman said that during his first six weeks of detention, Hedges was “interrogated without a lawyer, or consular access, and held in solitary confinement.”

The spokeswoman added that Hedges was forced to sign a document in Arabic.

“It has now been disclosed (it) was a confession statement,” she said, adding that the academic doesn’t speak or read Arabic.

The spokeswoman then went on to describe the remaining five months in which Hedges had continued to be held in solitary confinement.

“His mental and physical health seriously deteriorated. Matt was fed a cocktail of medication by the prison guards including Xanax, Valium and Ritalin,” she said. “After four months of solitary confinement he began vomiting on a daily basis.”

On October 29, she said, Hedges was released with an ankle monitor and was told to stay in Dubai.

Hedges was originally released on bail on October 29.
The UAE foreign ministry conducted a review of Hedges “welfare status” on October 24, it said, following reports about the 31-year-old’s treatment.

It said that he had “been provided with constant medical and psychological care” and that “family members and embassy staff were given access to him.”

“The treatment of Mr. Hedges is entirely in keeping with obligations under UAE law and international norms and Mr. Hedges’ welfare has been appropriately supported and maintained throughout the process,” the foreign ministry added.

“Since the commencement of the trial, as per UAE law, the conditions of Mr. Hedges’ remand have been reduced.”

CNN’s Bianca Britton wrote this story from London.

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