Jeremy Hunt has further ‘constructive’ talks with UAE over jailed Hedges

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has had “constructive” talks with his United Arab Emirates counterpart over the fate of a British academic jailed for life on a spying charge.

Diplomatic efforts to free PhD student Matthew Hedges are being led by Mr Hunt amid an outcry after the 31-year-old was handed the sentence earlier this week.

The Durham University researcher’s wife, Daniela Tejada, has lobbied for his release and won assurances from Mr Hunt that the Government is “now standing up for” her husband, after she claimed it had initially put foreign relations above his liberty.

Jeremy Hunt discussed the case on BBC's Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/PA)
Jeremy Hunt discussed the case on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/PA)

Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that he thinks Ms Tejada is being “incredibly brave in challenging circumstances”, and that he is “optimistic” a way through can be found.

After Mr Hunt’s latest talks with UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “They had constructive talks and agreed to keep in close contact over the coming days.”

United Arab Emirates ambassador Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui
United Arab Emirates ambassador Sulaiman Almazroui makes a statement about Matthew Hedges (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a statement at the UAE embassy in London on Friday, ambassador Sulaiman Almazroui praised the closeness between the two nations as he said clemency is being considered for the “extremely serious case”.

“Mr Hedges’ family have made a request for clemency and the government is studying that request,” he said.

“Because of the strength of that relationship we are hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached.”

He also made efforts to defend the judicial process, denying it was a “five-minute show trial” and claiming three judges evaluated “compelling evidence” over three hearings to make their ruling.

He did not address whether the academic was given adequate legal representation throughout the process, which Ms Tejada has said he lacked.

Our thoughts are with Matthew Hedges, his wife Daniela and his family today. We will do everything we can to get him home as soon as possible

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) November 21, 2018

She swiftly rebuked the ambassador’s defence, saying her husband had been held in solitary confinement for more than five months without charge or lawyer, and when he did receive consular access he was not able to “talk openly”.

“The judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared,” she said in a statement.

“We have asked for clemency, we will wait to see what happens.”

Mr Hedges, originally from Exeter, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on May 5.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said there is “no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research”.

Mr Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and Ms Tejada has launched a petition on which has so far garnered more than 238,000 signatures.