Middle East

UK student held in solitary confinement for five months in the UAE ‘on spying charges’

Hedges' wife, right, said that during the first month of his detention, the student was refused a shower and made to sleep on the floor (screengrab)

A British PhD student apparently accused of spying is facing trial in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being held in solitary confinement for five months.

Matthew Hedges attended a second hearing at the country's state security court on Wednesday. The hearing was adjourned until later this month.

The student was detained on 5 May at Dubai airport before being transferred to Abu Dhabi, the UAE's capital.

Hedges has been held mostly incommunicado since being detained, while the charges against him have yet to be revealed.

The 31-year-old had been in the country on a two-week visit in order to carry out interviews relating to his research, a doctoral thesis on the impact of the UAE's foreign and domestic security strategy.

His research looked at topics such as UAE involvement in the war in Yemen, and the country's military, apparently sparking fears of the risk of sensitive research in the Gulf country – which has cracked down on free speech and dissent since the 2011 uprisings.

Every single week of the year I meet academics, researchers, journalists and MA/PhD student doing research on UAE. They are welcome and are given access more than you think. UAE is open to all specially academics but does not tolerate spies pretending to be academics.

— Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (@Abdulkhaleq_UAE) October 11, 2018

Daniela Tejada, Hedges' wife of two years, has only been permitted one visit to see Hedges. Along with two visits from UK foreign office officials, this has been Hedges' only contact with the outside world.

Suicidal thoughts

Speaking to the UK newspaper, The Times, Tajeda said that during the first month of his detention, Hedges was refused a shower and made to sleep on the floor, adding that he had expressed suicidal thoughts in a phone call with her.

"His rights are violated on a daily basis," Tajeda said. "I am shocked that more has not been done to get him out," she added, emphasising that he was visiting the country exclusively for research purposes.

The UK Foreign Office said: "Our staff are supporting a British man following his detention in the UAE. We are assisting his family and remain in close contact with the local authorities. The foreign secretary has also personally raised his case with his Emirati counterpart."

Speaking of her visit in July, Tajeda said: "He was constantly shaking. He clearly did not expect to see me. He seemed to be very cautious about what he said and what he didn't say, which leads me to think he might have been coerced into saying or not saying certain things."

She said that Hedges' PhD was on Emirati security policies after the Arab Spring.

Hedges, a Durham University student, used to work for a security and political consultancy firm based in the UAE, as an analyst.

Whilst the exact nature of the charges against Hedges remain unclear, his colleagues believe he was accused of spying for Qatar.

Local reports seemingly referencing Hedges last month said that a foreign national had been accused of "seeking confidential information about the UAE" with the intention of passing it on to a foreign agency. The reports did not name Hedges as the suspect.

“We all know that is not true,” Tajeda said.

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