DUBAI, Nov 21, (Agencies): A United Arab Emirates court sentenced British student Matthew Hedges to life in jail on spying charges on Wednesday, prompting a “shocked” Britain to warn of repercussions for relations with its longstanding Gulf ally.
Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student, had protested his innocence ever since his arrest at Dubai airport on May 5 and British ministers had raised his case at the highest level. “We can confirm that he was sentenced to life in prison,” a family spokesperson told AFP. “The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and his lawyer was not present.” Hedges was researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, studies that Britain insisted were entirely innocuous but which the UAE said threatened its political and economic security.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the verdict. “We will continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emiratis,” she told parliament. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “deeply shocked” by the UAE court’s decision and warned of repercussions.
“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. “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,” he added. Hunt said he had personally raised the case at the highest levels of the UAE government, including during a visit to Abu Dhabi on Nov 12. The case comes with relations already tested by the UAE’s heavy involvement alongside Saudi Arabia in a military coalition battling Yemeni rebels since March 2015.
The deployment of Emirati ground troops, trainers and advisers alongside government forces advancing on the lifeline rebel-held port of Hodeida has prompted calls for Britain to halt or place conditions on its huge arms sales to the UAE.