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Outrage spreads across Britain in response to Matthew Hedges verdict

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Outrage spreads across Britain in response to Matthew Hedges verdict

The life sentencing of Matthew Hedges has caused outrage across Britain.

The UK's cosy ties with the UAE are now firmly in the public eye and there are growing calls for boycotts of the Gulf state - calling into question academic, sporting and cultural relations.

Several UK authors have withdrawn their support for the Emirates Airline Literature Festival, which is held annually in Dubai. Established under the patronage of UAE prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, it is the biggest festival of its kind in the Arab world.

Among those boycotting the event is historian Antony Beevor who, in an interview with the Guardian, called on his fellow writers to do the same.

“I do believe that authors should not go. Not out of anything against the festival, but that they shouldn’t even consider traveling to the UAE in these circumstances”, he said.

Hedges’ arrest has sparked a debate around academics’ safety in the UAE.

“I would also urge the general public not to go to Dubai for a holiday, because I think [that would] prove it is a very repressive regime. All its claims of being modern and open have been completely contradicted by this particular action.”, Beevor continued in reference to Matthew Hedges’ life sentence.

Other authors who have announced their boycott are novelist Sabine Durrant and BBC journalist Frank Gardner, with many more looking set to join in the coming days.

Pressure is now also growing on UK universities to cut ties with the Emirates. Several British Universities have campus branches in the UAE, including City University, Middlesex and London Business School. Unions are now pushing for a review of these partnerships.

In response to Hedges’ sentence, staff at the University of Birmingham voted yesterday in favour of an academic boycott of its newly-opened Dubai campus.

This means that lecturers and staff at the midland’s institution will refuse to teach in Dubai and will not provide any academic support to the campus.

James Brackley, the president of the Birmingham branch of the University and College Union (UCU) told the Guardian:  

“We call on the university to enter into meaningful negotiations with the trade unions to ensure they protect the safety and wellbeing of staff and students on the Dubai campus.

“We also call on them to hold back on the expansion of the campus until safeguards are in place.”

In an email to staff he said:

“The case of Matthew Hedges shows quite clearly that once someone is detained in Dubai, they will be entirely at the mercy of the Dubai authorities.

“We were also deeply disappointed that the university refused to join us in calling for Matthew’s release, instead citing in an email that it was an issue for Durham University to deal with. Clearly the university continues to put their own self-interest and financial relationships above what is right. This has to stop.”

Hiba Zayadin, from Human Rights Watch, called for a review of the UK’s educational ties with the UAE, telling the Guardian:

“Universities who have accepted money from the UAE or have campuses or branches there should publicly condemn this appalling verdict,

As long as academic institutions partnering with the UAE or sending students there cannot guarantee their students’ safety, any further planned partnerships in the works should absolutely be put on hold until the UAE reforms its abusive practices.

Those already with campuses in the UAE should be very seriously reviewing their relationship with the country.”

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