LONDON, Oct 11, (Agencies): Britain’s foreign secretary said Thursday he was “very worried” about the fate of a British student who, according to his wife, has been detained in the United Arab Emirates without charge since May. Matthew Hedges, a 31-yearold PhD student who was researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions, was stopped at Dubai Airport on May 5. “We are … very worried about Mr Hedges,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told AFP. “I’ve spoken to the Emirati foreign minister twice now on this matter face to face so they are very aware of our concerns and we are monitoring it very closely,” he said.
“Obviously every country has a judicial process and, just like in the UK, in the UAE the judiciary operates independently of the politicians and we respect that. “But we have a duty to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure British citizens have due process,” he added.
Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada, who has visited him once and spoken to him on the phone a few times, told AFP: “He simply isn’t guilty of anything. He was just doing academic research”. Following reports in British media that he has been accused of spying, Tejada said his research involved only open resources. “He’s not disclosed anything … classified or confidential,” she said, adding that Hedges had lived in the UAE for “several years” before he returned to Britain in 2015.
Tejada said Hedges was diagnosed with depression and anxiety shortly before travelling to the UAE for his research. She said he had been allowed to take anti-depressants in prison, but added: “My big concern is that without the appropriate psychiatric treatment the effects of medication are not only not effective but can actually be counterproductive”. Tejada said Hedges had been kept in solitary confinement “nearly the entire time”. Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University in northern England where Hedges is a student, voiced concern.
“We are seriously concerned about Matt’s welfare and wellbeing and we remain in close contact with the family,” he said. Britain’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “Our staff are supporting a British man following his detention in the UAE”. Hedges appeared in court in Abu Dhabi last week but the case was adjourned and then delayed a second time on Wednesday.
The next scheduled hearing is on Oct 24, his wife said. According to a profile on 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. Last year, he co-authored an article in an academic journal on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the UAE is a member. The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but tolerates little public criticism of its monarchy or policies and is opposed to the Islamist ideology of the Brotherhood. Emirati authorities routinely jail people for publishing content deemed offensive to the state, such as a 10- year prison sentence issued for activist Ahmed Mansoor earlier this year.