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  1. ITV Report

Foreign Office 'deeply concerned' about Durham University academic accused of spying

University student Matthew Hedges and wife Daniela Tejada Photo: Daniela Tejada

The Foreign Office has said it is "deeply concerned" about a British academic accused of spying in the United Arab Emirates after his wife called on the Government to say he was innocent.

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student at Durham University who is from Exeter, was held at Dubai airport on May 5 after flying in to interview sources about the country's foreign policy and security strategy.

The UAE Attorney General confirmed that Mr Hedges had been "referred to the Court of Appeal to stand trial after being charged with spying for and on behalf of a foreign state, jeopardising the UAE military, economic and political security."

Watch Kris Jepson's report here:

Mr Hedges has been held in solitary confinement for almost six months, according to his family, and they said they were concerned he will not have a fair trial as he has had limited access to his lawyer.

His wife, Daniela Tejada, 27, has called on the British government to "clarify publicly" that he was not spying and is innocent of the charges.

In response, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said:

We remain deeply concerned about Matthew Hedges and are in regular contact with the Emiratis regarding his health and wellbeing. We continue to press for consular access. We also remain in close contact with Matthew's wife, Daniela.

– Foreign Office

Ms Tejada said:

I no longer know what to do to get Matt out of prison in the UAE. I am calling on the UK Government to clarify publicly that Matt is innocent of the charges and that there have been many falsehoods said about him. It is the duty of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to protect their citizens abroad. This horrifying situation has been going on for far too long.

– Daniela Tejada, Matthew Hedge's wife
University student Matthew Hedges and wife Daniela Tejada Credit: Family Photo

Amnesty International have backed Ms Tejada's request to the Foreign Office, telling ITV News "they should call for his immediate and unconditional release if he's only detained in relation to his academic work."

Sima Watling said "they should call for him to be treated humanely and they need to put their citizens first."

The group's foreign affairs spokeswoman Polly Truscott said: "

Matthew wouldn't be the first person to be arrested in the UAE on baseless grounds and to be detained for a long period without access to a lawyer. If he's been charged with espionage simply for having conducted academic research into the country's security services, he should be released immediately.

– Amnesty International UK
University student Matthew Hedges Credit: Family Photo

Ms Tejada said her husband only met his legal representative for the first time at court last week. She said:

The entire hearing was in Arabic, with only the questions directed at Matt being translated into English. It has now been confirmed to us that Matt was told he was being charged with gathering information and sharing it with a foreign agency - the UK Government. He will be back before the court on October 24 after the case was adjourned to allow him to prepare his defence. The prosecution has therefore had over five months to come up with a case for trial and Matt's court-appointed lawyer has been given two weeks with no further access to Matt. To call this a fair judicial process is, to say the least, highly inaccurate. Matt has never been allowed to speak about his case with anyone. He was never given the opportunity to look for a lawyer to represent him, especially as it was not known what he needed to be represented for. The charges against Matt are false and unsubstantiated, as is the purported evidence to support them. Matt continues to be denied appropriate medical care for his mental health and remains in solitary confinement.

– Daniela Tejada, Matthew Hedge's wife
University student Matthew Hedges and wife Daniela Tejada Credit: Family Photo

Ms Tejada's concerns over her husband receiving a fair trial are not without foundation, according to an NGO which specialises in the justice system in the UAE.

Radha Stirling, of Detained in Dubai, told ITV News, "forced confessions are normal. Arbitrary detentions are normal. A trial can last as little as five to 10 minutes and convictions without evidence are standard in the UAE, so if this situation goes through the court process in the UAE, there's absolutely no real chance of a fair trial."

The UAE Attorney General confirmed "that a defence lawyer was appointed to represent him, funded by the state, since he was not able to appoint a lawyer himself; in accordance with UAE constitutional guarantees of his right to a fair, impartial and transparent trial."

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