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UK 'deeply concerned' as UAE charges British PhD student with spying

Hedges has been detained since May. [Facebook]

Date of publication: 17 October, 2018

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Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student, was detained in May and has been held in solitary confinement in the UAE for five months.

Britain said on Tuesday it was "deeply concerned" about the wellbeing of a PhD student charged by the United Arab Emirates with spying in the Gulf country.

British citizen Matthew Hedges stands accused of "spying for a foreign country, jeopardising the military, political and economic security of the state", UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said late Monday. 

"We remain deeply concerned about Matthew Hedges and are in regular contact with the Emiratis regarding his health and wellbeing," said the Foreign Office in London.

"We continue to press for consular access. We also remain in close contact with Matthew's wife, Daniela."

It added that it was longstanding British policy "not to comment on intelligence matters". 

The 31-year-old, who was researching the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May.

Hedges' wife Daniela Tejada said Tuesday he been "held in an undisclosed location in the UAE in solitary confinement" with limited access to the consulate and his family as well as no access to a lawyer until last week.

She said Hedges had been told he "was being charged with gathering information and sharing it with a foreign agency - the UK Government".

Tejada called on the British government to "clarify publically that Matt is innocent of the charges and that there have been many falsehoods said about him". 

"This horrifying situation has been going on for far too long," she said.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told AFP last week that he was "very worried" about Hedges' fate.

"I've spoken to the Emirati foreign minister twice now on this matter face to face so they are very aware of our concerns and we are monitoring it very closely," he said.

According to the UAE attorney general, Hedges had been posing as a researcher to cover his activities. The accusations against him were backed by "information taken from his electronic devices".

Tejada, who has visited her husband once and spoken to him on the phone, told AFP last week her husband "simply isn't guilty of anything". 

"He was just doing academic research," she said, adding that his research involved only open source material.

"He's not disclosed anything... classified or confidential," she said, adding that Hedges had lived in the UAE for "several years" before he returned to Britain in 2015.

"Matthew wouldn't be the first person to be arrested in the UAE on baseless grounds, to be detained for a long period without access to a lawyer, and to be made to 'confess'," Amnesty International said.

"We're also calling on the UK Government to step up its support for Matthew. He and his family need to know that the UK is doing its utmost to ensure that his basic rights to humane treatment and fair legal proceedings are being guaranteed."

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