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British student imprisoned in UAE on spying charges released on bail

Matthew Hedges' wife tells MEE that, despite FCO's promises, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt still has not met her
Imprisoned UK student Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tajeda (AFP)

A British student imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spying for the UK has been released on bail pending another hearing in November.

In a statement, Matthew Hedges' wife said she welcomed the news, but that there was still a long struggle ahead to fully clear her husband's name.

"Matthew Hedges has been temporarily released, with constant monitoring, from the location he was being held until 21 November 2018 for his next court hearing," said Daniela Tejada.

"I, of course, welcome this development. However, I cannot allow myself to get too excited by this information as Matt is not fully free yet."

"Above everything, I hope that justice will be done and Matt is granted his rightful freedom, something that he's been unjustly denied in the last six months," she added.

The statement said they were waiting on more information on Hedges' current condition, but said he was being "closely monitored" in the UAE.

Hedges, who was in Dubai researching the UAE's foreign and internal security policies for a PhD, was originally arrested in May and spent months in solitary confinement with little consular access or contact with family members.

Tejada has repeatedly stressed that Hedges is innocent of the charges levelled against him, which include "spying for a foreign country" and "jeopardising the military, political and economic security of the state", according to UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi.

Although he has been imprisoned since May, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised his family not to go public, arguing that it would negatively impact the case.

Speaking to Middle East Eye last week, Tejada said that she thought the advice given to her by the FCO had been been poor, arguing that Hedges' condition had only improved since they went public.

"The FCO are my main point of contact to Matt and the UAE authorities, who I have never been able to speak to. I know that there have been a few representations from the FCO. I'm still unaware what these representations have consisted of," she said.

"I'm keen to think it's most likely still around his welfare, but to be honest I think that much more progress was achieved in the past week or 10 days when the news broke to the public than in the five-and-a-half months that preceded that."

An FCO spokesperson told MEE last week that they were arranging a meeting between Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Tejada to discuss Hedges' case.

MEE understands, however, that as of Tuesday no meeting has taken place and that Tejada is still waiting on a date and time.

Not a 'safe country'

In response to an inquiry by MEE, the FCO refused to comment on whether Hedges was involved in espionage, and if it had denied he was a spy to the UAE, stating it was a "longstanding policy of successive UK governments not to comment on intelligence matters".

"As the foreign secretary has made clear, there are limits to what we can say publicly on Matthew's case due to ongoing legal proceedings," said a spokesperson.

"We are monitoring developments closely and have made the Emirati authorities aware of all our concerns. We continue to do everything we can for Matthew and his family."

A 2016 Amnesty International report said that forced disappearances were pervasive in the country.

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Radha Stirling, chief executive of UK-based Detained in Dubai, noted that extraditions to the UAE from the UK have been repeatedly denied, based on the "real risk of human rights abuses, unfair trials and torture".  

She told MEE that her organisation was "writing to relevant universities to suggest the suspension of any research trips to the Emirates, as well as to corporations and investors".

"While the UAE continues to feel at liberty to persecute and detain British nationals, it cannot be considered a safe country to visit or do business in."