British academic held in UAE ‘not a spy’, says wife

The wife of a British academic being held in solitary confinement in the United Arab Emirates has said her husband was not spying and was only there for research purposes.

Matthew Hedges, a PhD student at Durham University, was reportedly taken into custody at Dubai airport on May 5 after travelling to the UAE to interview sources about the country’s foreign policy and security strategy.

The 31-year-old, who lives in Exeter, has been held without charge ever since, and his wife, Daniela Tejada, is calling on UAE officials to “admit that they’ve made a mistake” and release him.

Ms Tejada, 27, said she has not been told what exactly her husband is accused of, but said she would not rule out the prospect of him being accused of spying.

She said reports that he has been accused of spying are “highly speculative”, adding: “But we’ve been kept in the dark so it’s impossible to know.

“However, the only thing that I do know is that he most certainly wasn’t. Not just because he knows the region very well, and he knows that it’s not a safe thing to do, but because he’s a man of integrity.

“And he would never do anything to compromise that. And the only reason he went to the UAE was for his academic research.”

Speaking to the Press Association, Ms Tejada, from Bogota in Colombia, said: “I feel like, above all things, I want everyone to know that Matt was just doing research, and that he should not have faced any of what he’s facing for just having a sense of inquiry, and academic curiosity.”

She added: “He’s just a good person, and a good student, and he has an untouchable record wherever you look at it.

“I feel like the fair and just thing for the UAE to do would be to admit that they’ve made a mistake and to release him, because he deserve it.”

Matthew Hedges detention
Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada (Family Handout/PA)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is understood to have personally raised Mr Hedges’s case with his UAE counterpart amid concerns over his mental health and well-being.

British officials have visited Mr Hedges twice, although he is said to have been prevented from discussing his case with them.

Mr Hedges’ case was heard by a court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, but was adjourned until another hearing on October 24.

Ms Tejada said she is worried about her husband being “heavily medicated” with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills and sleeping pills.

She said he has been vomiting every day for the past three months or so, and was initially only allowed a shower once a fortnight.

Ms Tejada said he was given a mattress about a month ago, but had been sleeping on the floor until then.

“The conditions in which he’s being kept are appalling,” she said.

“The fact that after such a prolonged time of being mistreated, every little gesture becomes so meaningful to him that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s developing some sort of Stockholm syndrome, and is thus more easy to manipulate,” she said.

She has only seen her husband once since he was detained, and described the 45-minute visit as “distressing”.

Ms Tejada said he described the interrogation period as “very intense”, adding that he kept asking her if anyone had approached her, making her think he had been threatened with his family.

The couple have been allowed weekly phone calls, monitored and lasting a maximum of five minutes, but have been forbidden from discussing the case.

Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained In Dubai and a legal expert on the UAE, said: “It is alarming that the UAE would accuse him of ‘spying’ simply for pursuing research.

“We are not aware of the specific subject matter of his research in the UAE, but in the past he has studied the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities, influence and agenda in the country, and around the region; and it is possible that the UAE authorities disliked what he has written in the past, and suspect him on purely political and ideological grounds.”

Ms Stirling said it has been reported in Gulf news that Mr Hedges has been accused of spying, adding: “While the official charges have not been confirmed in court, it is almost a certainty that they related to charges of espionage or defaming the government of the UAE.”

According to a profile on the Durham University website, Mr Hedges’ research includes Middle Eastern politics, the changing nature of war, civil-military relations and tribalism.

Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, said: “We are seriously concerned about Matt’s welfare and well-being and we remain in close contact with his family.”

Ms Tejada said Mr Hedges is being held in an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.

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