Matthew Hedges: British academic accused of spying due in court today
A young British student is due to appear at Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court today where he will face charges of spying on the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the UK government.
Matthew Hedges, a PhD student at Durham University, was seized at Dubai airport in May as he attempted to leave the country following a two-week research trip for his doctoral thesis on Emirati and security and foreign policies after the Arab Spring.
Last week UAE authorities said he had been charged with "spying for and on behalf of a foreign state."
Today’s hearing follows the adjournment of a court session earlier this month at the UAE’s state security chambers for him to access legal counsel.
Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, has said that her husband has since been appointed a court lawyer but described his English as “very broken.” Hedges is unable to speak Arabic, so there is a chance he will not be able to consult properly with his legal team during proceedings. According to Tejada, the UK Foreign Office has requested a translator to be available throughout the trial.
If convicted, Hedges could face anything from 7 years in prison to the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch have expressed reservations on the ability of Hedges to be granted a fair trial. In a statement last week, they said that Hedges has been denied access to proper legal representation since his arrest and called on the UAE to “immediately disclose Hedges’ whereabouts; improve his detention conditions; allow him sufficient access to proper legal representation, consular services, and his family; and guarantee him a fair trial.”
Hedges, who is originally from Exeter, has reportedly been held in solitary confinement for the last five months in Abu Dhabi.
According to his wife, he was forced to sleep on the floor for the first four months of his detention, denied access to regular showers and refused adequate medical care to treat previously diagnosed mental health issues.
The young student’s case has sparked outrage from the educational community, with 250 academics from over 50 institutions around the world signing an open letter demanding his immediate release.
In a joint statement, Exeter and Durham universities said:
“Matt is suffering from significant health issues after more than five months in detention. His welfare and right to a fair trial are now the overriding concerns of both Durham and Exeter universities.”
Both universities called upon the authorities in the UAE and the UK to “treat Matt with proper fairness and to make every effort to return Matt to his wife, Daniela, and his family and friends”.
They added that the court has been assured of Mr Hedges’ status as a PhD student “in good standing”.