Durham PhD student sentenced to life for spying in UAE

He has 30 days to appeal


A Durham PhD student has been sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates, after being charged with spying on behalf of the UK government.

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old Durham postgraduate student, was supposedly compiling data for his PhD on the security of the Arab Peninsula in the wake of the Arab Spring when he was arrested for spying.

Emeriti officials allege that Hedges was not an academic researcher, but was merely posing as one in order to obtain sensitive data.

Hedges's wife accompanied him in court, where he admitted to the charges against him were "identical to evidence and information gained from his own electronic devices and investigations conducted by the UAE’s security agencies".

Hedges's sentence, which he has 30 days to appeal, will last 25 years. Since he is a non-Emirates resident, he will be deported when the sentence is over. He will be expected to pay all legal fees. In the meantime, all of his devices and research have been confiscated.

According to a statement from the federal court: "The Federal Appeals Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced Matthew Hedges, 31, to life imprisonment after being convicted of spying on the UAE and providing sensitive security and intelligence information to third parties”.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Today's verdict is not what we expected from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances.

"I have repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities 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."

Durham university sent an email to students today, saying: "Matt has been detained in conditions which breached his human rights and this judgement has been delivered in the absence of anything resembling due process or a fair trial.

"There has been no information given on what basis Matt was handed this sentence and no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research".

The Durham UCU branch president Sarah Elton stated: "We are shocked and horrified at the life sentence given to Matthew. His arrest and imprisonment is a threat to academic freedom and research. We call on the Foreign Office to take immediate steps to secure Matthew’s rapid acquittal and release".

Hedges had been arrested at Dubai airport in June during a research trip to UAE. He was taken to Abu Dhabi and held in solitary confinement and only allowed one visit by his wife, and one phone call from his mother.