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British PhD student imprisoned in UAE on suspected spy charges

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2 months 4 days

British PhD student imprisoned in UAE on suspected spy charges

A UK student has reportedly been held in solitary confinement for five months in the UAE after he was accused of spying in Dubai.

Matthew Hedges, 31, was seized at Dubai airport in May as he attempted to leave the country following a two-week research trip for his PhD at Durham University.

He was taken into custody by security officials before being transferred to a prison in Abu Dhabi, where he was held in solitary confinement for weeks and permitted just a single phone call with his mother back home.

Hedges attended his second hearing at UAE’s state security court yesterday, which was adjourned until later this month.

With no official comment on the case, his charges remain unclear. However, in an apparent reference to Hedges last month, Emirati state-media reported that an unnamed foreign national had confessed to spying charges after being accused of “seeking confidential information about the UAE” to pass on to an overseas agency.

According to an investigation published in the Times today, the UK Foreign Office had initially refused to comment on, or even issue a confirmation of Mr Hedges’ detention. However, in a statement last night, the FCO said: 

“Our staff are supporting a British man following his detention in the UAE. We are assisting his family and remain in close contact with the local authorities. The foreign secretary has also personally raised his case with his Emirati counterpart.”

The UK student’s on-going detention risks straining the UK’s close ties with Gulf state, which have become increasingly important to the British administration with Brexit on the horizon.

In a statement to the Financial Times, Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada expressed disappointment at the FCO’s conduct around her husband’s case, stating:

“His rights are violated on a daily basis and I am shocked that more has not been done to get him out”

Since the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 the Emirati authorities have become increasingly intolerant of dissent and cracked down heavily on free speech, posing a risk to academics conducting sensitive research in the country.

Examining changes in Emirati security and foreign policy after the Arab Spring, Mr Hedges' doctoral thesis covers a controversial subject area in the UAE.

In light of her husband’s on-going detention, Ms Tejado called for a review of the UK’s educational relations with the Gulf state.

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