This is the notorious Abu Dhabi prison where British academic Matthew Hedges could be incarcerated after he was sentenced to life in prison for ‘spying’ in the UAE.
The 31-year-old Durham University student attended a five-minute court hearing in the city yesterday and his wife Daniela Tejada watched on as the sentence was handed down.
Al Wathba prison, Abu Dhabi’s biggest, is just a 40 minute drive from the court room and while it is not yet clear where Mr Hedges will be taken, the jail has frequently appeared in reports of foreigners locked up in the country.
Some have described horrific ‘hellhole’ conditions in the lock-up, with one Briton describing its ‘rotten garbage’ food and likening it to ‘Dante’s Inferno’.
This is the notorious Abu Dhabi prison where it is feared British academic Matthew Hedges will be sent after he was sentenced to life in prison for ‘spying’ in the UAE
The 31-year-old Durham University student (left, with his wife Daniela Tejada) attended a five-minute court hearing in the city yesterday
Daniela Tejada (pictured at Heathrow Airport today) said her husband was shaking as the sentence was handed down in Abu Dhabi
Others have described having to sleep on the ground with no mattress, 50 degree heat, broken air conditioning units and having to share cells with up to 18 inmates.
Ex soldier John Murphy spent six weeks in the jail while awaiting a court hearing this year and called it the ‘most terrifying experience I have ever had’.
Mr Murphy was facing a three year sentence over an altercation with two hotel security guards.
He attended court and protested his innocence only to be told the judge was ready to sentence him. Rather than protract his time in the country he agreed to pay a fine of £4,000 and was spared jail.
But describing his time spent in the prison, he said: ‘There was incessant noise, I felt my life was in danger and I honestly didn’t expect to get out alive.
Ex soldier John Murphy (pictured) spent six weeks in the jail while awaiting a court hearing this year and called it the ‘ most terrifying experience I have ever had’
‘It was baking hot all the time, the food was rotting garbage, and the place was so overcrowded that people had to take it in turns to sleep.
‘It smelled powerfully of sweat, faeces and sewage. The sanitary conditions were shocking and people were always sick.
‘The slightest cut would quickly lead to infection and there was no chance of any medical attention.
‘I finally got bail six weeks later, and I believe I’m still suffering from PTSD. I can’t sleep, and have the most awful flashbacks.’
Al Wathba was built 35 years ago and is the biggest and oldest of the emirate’s five prisons.
In a British government fact sheet about the unit, there is information on visitor hours, transferring spending money and various facilities at the jail.
There is a warning of long waits to make calls from the prison, with one extract saying: ‘Hundreds of prisoners want to make phone calls at the same time so be prepared for a long wait and the likelihood of disappointment.’
While there is a library in the jail, there is no gym and educational facilities are ‘only available to UAE nationals’.
Irish construction boss John White spent five years in the jail after being left £1million short by clients and unable to pay the £500,000 he owed creditors.
His sister Eileen told the Mirror in 2017: ‘It was as horrendous [in prison] as you can imagine, 50 degrees, but they had air-con on 24/7 so he always had a cold or the flu.
‘It would break down and be off for days and days and he said that water would be running down the walls and he’d be just drenched, he couldn’t sleep or anything.
‘He could be moved to another room on a minute’s notice and be lying on the floor with no mattress. He lost an awful lot of weight and got older looking, it definitely took its toll on him. I was shocked when I saw the picture of him.’
Christopher Ashie-Nikoi, from Ilford, Essex, was accused and then acquitted of smuggling the synthetic drug ‘spice’ into the country but was thrown in to the jail for nine months as he awaited trial.
The father-of-two was arrested in February 2016 shortly after arriving in Dubai with friends to celebrate his 29th birthday. He has always maintained his innocence.
Mr Hedges, 31, was sentenced after being accused of spying. Pictured: A Federal Supreme Court building in Abu Dhabi
Daniela Tejada, who attended the hearing yesteday said their ‘nightmare has gotten even worse’ and she is ‘very scared for Matt’ after he received a life sentence
Haunted by the time he spent in the jail, he could only tell The Sun: ‘It was terrible in there.’
At times he said there were 18 people crammed into his cell with the prison over-capacity.
Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper, however, paints a different picture of the jail, describing it as being ‘closer to a residential detention centre, with living quarters, a clean and well-kept kitchen, a library, a theatre and a workshop.’
In 2014, Col Mohammed Al Zaabi, manager of Abu Dhabi’s punishment and corrections department, told the newspaper that the prison was subject to random visits from human rights departments and public prosecutors.
Men and women were separated by large gates and right security with 80 per cent of inmates incarcerated for ‘petty crimes’, he said.
‘We live in a globalised world and most of our prisoners are deported after their sentences. If they had been abused at our correctional facilities in any way then they would speak about it when they went home.’
‘We follow specific guidelines to ensure that (prisoners) all receive their full rights in rehabilitation, medical care, nutrition, communicating with their families and their lawyers. They have the complete freedom and support of the facility and are not prevented from any of their rights.’
He said every prisoner has their own bed, adding: ‘We have cells for two, four and a few for eight inmates — it all depends on the size of the room and its capacity.’
‘Everything we provide and all services are for expatriates and nationals. At our facilities there is no difference in nationalities. Even how they are distributed in their cells. The concept of separating UAE nationals from expatriates does not exist. Everyone is in the same ward and same cell.’