Academics sign open letter to UAE to express concern over detention of British student
More than 100 academics have signed a letter expressing their concern over the detention of a British student on charges of spying for the UK government.
The 123 professors from institutions around the world call for the release of colleague Matthew Hedges, who was arrested while on a research trip in the UAE for his doctorate at Durham University.
They say the charges against Mr Hedges, 31, put into question academic ties between the UK and the UAE.
“British scholars can no longer regard the Emirates as a safe place for legitimate academic research, despite the efforts of the UAE government to encourage educational exchanges between UK institutions and the UAE,” read the letter, which was co-signed by Professor Clive Jones, Mr Hedges’ supervisor.
Mr Hedges, who is originally from Exeter, was on a 10-trip to the UAE as part of his research into the impact of the Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policy and security strategy.
He was on his way home when he was arrested at Dubai airport on May 5.
Mr Hedges was reportedly arrested after an Emirati reported him to the authorities for “asking sensitive questions about some sensitive departments” and “seeking to gather classified information on the UAE”.
Mr Hedges is due to appear in court on Wednesday on charges of espionage, after being held for six months in solitary confinement.
Daniela Tejada, Mr Hedge’s wife, has protested her husband’s innocence, saying he was visiting the UAE exclusively for academic research purposes and was detained without charge for over five months.
She said her husband had been kept in solitary confinement since his arrest, forced to sleep on the floor for months and had suffered from anxiety and depression. She urged the British government to state that he was innocent of the charges.
The arrest of a British academic by the UAE, an ally of the UK, is unprecedented.
In a joint statement, Durham and Exeter universities said they were “deeply concerned” about his welfare.
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The statement 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 on 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 had been assured of Hedges’ status as a PhD student “in good standing”.