The wife of a British academic jailed for life for ‘spying’ in the United Arab Emirates has said she is ‘in complete shock’ – and insists he is innocent.
Matthew Hedges, a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, appeared in court in Abu Dhabi today for a hearing ‘lasting less than five minutes’ – six months after his arrest in Dubai Airport.
His wife, Daniela Tejada, who attended the hearing today said their ‘nightmare has gotten even worse’ and she is ‘very scared for Matt’, who denies the charge of spying and insists he was conducting research in the UAE when he was detained in May.
She said she saw her 31-year-old husband ‘shaking when he heard the verdict’. Just weeks ago, Mr Hedges said being held in solitary confinement had left him suicidal.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this morning he was ‘deeply shocked’ by the life sentence, which carries a maximum term of 25 years, and warned of ‘repercussions’. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to raise it with authorities at the ‘highest level’.
A court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced British academic Matthew Hedges (pictured with his wife Daniela Tejada) to life in prison after he was accused of spying
Matthew Hedges (pictured with wife Daniela Tejada), a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, appeared in court in Abu Dhabi today – six months after his arrest in Dubai Airport
Yesterday, Mr Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, who attended the hearing posted on Twitter: ‘Tomorrow, Nov 21, Matt will be appearing in court in Abu Dhabi. Hoping that justic will prevail and my husband will be granted his rightful freedom.’
Ms Tejada, 27, called on the British government to ‘take a stand’ adding: ‘I am in complete shock and I don’t know what to do.
‘Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them.
‘This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no one taking Matthew’s case seriously.
‘The British Government must take a stand now for Matthew, one of their citizens. They say that the UAE is an ally, but the overwhelmingly arbitrary handling of Matt’s case indicates a scarily different reality, for which Matt and I are being made to pay a devastatingly high price.
‘This has been the worst six months of my life, let alone for Matt who was shaking when he heard the verdict. The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice.
‘I am very scared for Matt. I don’t know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse.’
The pair met at Exeter University in eight years ago as Ms Tejada, originally from Bogota, Colombia, was about to start her BA, and he was due to move to the UAE.
They have spent much of their relationship as a long-distance couple. They were married in January last year.
Yesterday, still hopeful her husband would be released without charge, she wrote on Twitter: ‘Tomorrow, Nov 21, Matt will be appearing in court in Abu Dhabi. Hoping that justice will prevail and my husband will be granted his rightful freedom.’
Mr Hedges’ life sentence was confirmed by a family spokesperson, who said: ‘The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and his lawyer was not present.’
A Reuters journalist was reportedly barred from entering the court session, which was closed to the public.
According to The National, Mr Hedges was arrested after an Emirati man told police he had been asking for sensitive information and confessed to the charges during questioning.
Mr Hedges, was convicted by the Federal Appeals Court for attempting to procure sensitive information during a trip to the Emirates earlier this year, local media reported
Mr Hedges’ wife, Daniela, of Exeter, said in October that he is tired and ‘shocked by everything’, but in a good mood and ‘glad to be breathing fresh air’ after his release
In the UAE, life includes up to 25 years in jail followed by deportation. Mr Hedges, who was also ordered to pay legal fees, has the right to appeal the sentence within 30 days.
This morning, Jeremy Hunt said he was ‘deeply shocked and disappointed’.
‘Today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances,’ he said.
He warned the UAE that ‘the handling of this case… will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries, which has to be built on trust.
‘I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider’.
Mr Hunt said he had personally raised the case at the highest levels of the UAE government, including during a visit to Abu Dhabi on November 12.
Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs today: ‘We are deeply disappointed and concerned at today’s verdict. … We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level.’
According to The National, a full statement from the court hearing today, translated from Arabic said: ‘The Federal Appeals Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced Matthew Hedges, 31, to life imprisonment after being convicted of spying on the UAE and providing sensitive security and intelligence information to third parties.
‘The court also ruled that he would be deported from the country after the execution of the sentence and would be charged the costs of the legal case.
‘The court ordered the confiscation of all his equipment, devices, research and studies. The convicted person has the right to challenge the ruling with the State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court within a maximum period of 30 days.’
Mr Hedges went to the UAE to research his PhD thesis, where he was accused of spying for the British Government and arrested.
At Mr Hedge’s last hearing on October 24, his court-appointed lawyer maintained that he is innocent.
On October 29, Mr Hedges was released on bail after five months in solitary confinement and he has since been staying in Dubai with an ankle bracelet monitoring his movements.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this morning he was ‘deeply shocked’ by the life sentence, which carries a maximum term of 25 years, and warned of ‘repercussions’. He is pictured meeting Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, last week
Mr Hunt said he had personally raised the case at the highest levels of the UAE government, including during a visit to Abu Dhabi on November 12
At the time, he said he had expressed suicidal thoughts because jail conditions have caused him severe anxiety and panic attacks.
He said he had not had his passport returned to him and was being made to wear an ankle bracelet.
Ms Tejada said in October that he was tired and ‘shocked by everything’, but in a good mood and ‘glad to be breathing fresh air’ after his release.
She also spoke of her hope for ‘justice’.
In an interview weeks earlier, she reiterated her belief that her husband was innocent.
‘I feel like, above all things, I want everyone to know that Matt was just doing research, and that he should not have faced any of what he’s facing for just having a sense of inquiry, and academic curiosity.’
She added: ‘He’s just a good person, and a good student, and he has an untouchable record wherever you look at it.
‘I feel like the fair and just thing for the UAE to do would be to admit that they’ve made a mistake and to release him, because he deserve it.’
At the time, Ms Tejada said she was worried about her husband being ‘heavily medicated’ with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills and sleeping pills.
She said he had been vomiting every day for the past three months or so, and was initially only allowed a shower once a fortnight.
Ms Tejada said he had recently been given a mattress, but had been sleeping on the floor until then.
‘The conditions in which he’s being kept are appalling,’ she said.
‘The fact that after such a prolonged time of being mistreated, every little gesture becomes so meaningful to him that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s developing some sort of Stockholm syndrome, and is thus more easy to manipulate,’ she said.
She said at the time that she had only seen her husband once since he was detained, and described the 45-minute visit as ‘distressing’.
The life sentence was confirmed by family spokesperson, who said: ‘The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and his lawyer was not present.’ Pictured: A Federal Supreme Court building in Abu Dhabi
In October it was reported that Mr Hedges (pictured with his wife) had expressed suicidal thoughts because jail conditions had caused him severe anxiety and panic attacks.
Ms Tejada said he described the interrogation period as ‘very intense’, adding that he kept asking her if anyone had approached her, making her think he had been threatened with his family.
She revealed that the couple had been allowed weekly phone calls, monitored and lasting a maximum of five minutes, but had been forbidden from discussing the case.
Earlier this year, the family said that during the first six weeks of his detention, Mr Hedges was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access available.
They said he was made to sign a document in Arabic which it transpired was a confession. The family said at the time: ‘Matthew does not speak or read Arabic’.
According to Durham University’s website, Hedges is a doctoral student in the School of Government and International Affairs whose research interests include civil-military relations, political economy and tribalism.
More than 120 academics from around the world have issued a petition urging UAE authorities to release him.
Durham released a joint statement with Exeter University, where Hedges completed his Master’s degree, expressing concern over his welfare and attesting that he had conducted his research in accordance with its policies.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has previously said there are limits to what it can say publicly about the case because of the legal proceedings.
It said it was monitoring developments closely and staff were in close contact with Mr Hedges’ wife Daniela, offering her support.
Radha Stirling, CEO of human rights NGO Detained in Dubai, said after today’s sentencing: ‘I fully expect that Matthew Hedges will launch an appeal but we must remember that he will be facing a judicial system that is known for corruption, unfair trials, forced confessions and discrimination.
‘The UK courts have repeatedly denied all extradition requests to the country on this basis and, in Matthew’s case, the ultimate determination of his matter will come down to the ruling party, not to the legal system,’ said Stirling, whose team of lawyers help those in difficulty with the Dubai judiciary.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, added: ‘This is terrible news – our worst fears come true. We’ve always had the gravest concerns about this case – from the long period that Matthew was in detention without access to a lawyer, the supposed confession in detention, and now the ludicrously short trial hearing today.
‘The UK should demand that the Emirati authorities fully explain how this case can ever be justified. Meanwhile, the UK should make it absolutely clear that jailing Matthew for life will have serious consequences for the UK’s future relationship with the UAE.’
The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but tolerates little public criticism of its ruling families or policies.