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Academics demand freedom for British student accused of spying in UAE



A British university student accused of spying and put in solitary confinement should immediately be freed from jail, says a letter signed by 123 academics.

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old Durham University PhD student, was detained as he was leaving Dubai Airport on 5 May and his supporters say he has been kept in “inhumane” solitary confinement ever since.

His physical and mental health have deteriorated and he has expressed suicidal thoughts to his wife, the letter says.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have charged him with spying “for a foreign state”, claiming his study was a “cover” for doing survillance for the UK government.

Mr Hedges’ supporters insist he was in the country with permission to conduct research and interviews for his thesis about security policies after the Arab Spring.

Daniela Tejada


Matthew Hedges’ wife says she feels ‘helpless’

The letter says he is locked up at an “undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi” and kept in “degrading and inhumane” conditions that violate international norms.

It continues: “He was forced to sleep on the floor for the first four and a half months after his arrest, denied access to regular showers and prevented from receiving any reading material that might help allay his mental anguish.”

Mr Hedges was only given a lawyer last week, has limited access to British consular officials and has had only brief communications with his wife, according to the letter.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said his case has been raised with the UAE and that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had also raised the case with his Emirati counterparts.

UAE’s attorney general previously said the charge was “predicated on evidence secured from Mr Hedges’ electronic devices; surveillance and intelligence gathering by UAE intelligence and security agencies; and corroborating evidence provided by Mr Hedges himself”.

Mr Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, has called the charges “absurd”.

She told Sky News: “I think if he was a spy he would be terrible, he would be far too conspicuous.

“He was doing his research, he was very open about what he was doing.”

The letter warns that future educational ties with the UAE are at risk and that it cannot now be seen as “a safe place for legitimate academic research”.

Academics from the UK, Spain, Canada, France, Portugal and the US are among those calling for his immediate release.

Mr Hedges’ trial is expected to resume on Wednesday.

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