Durham student Matthew Hedges sentenced to life in prison in UAE

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Durham University PhD student, Matthew Hedges, has been sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates.

Hedges had denied accusations of spying on behalf of the UK government in May, but was sentenced during a brief court hearing in Abu Dhabi today.

The 31-year-old had been reportedly held in solitary confinement for nearly six months, after being arrested on May 5th at Dubai Airport but was released on bail earlier this month.

Wednesday’s court appearance, which reportedly lasted just 5 minutes, has been his third since his arrest.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.

Mr Hunt said: “Today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom. 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.

“I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider.”

Before trial, a representative for Mr Hedges’ family, Nikita Bernardi, stated, “We have no indication as to what way it will go. We’re trying to stay hopeful but we don’t want to raise our hopes too much.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati commentator, tweeted that Hedges had been convicted of spying and has 30 days to appeal against the verdict.

The PhD student had travelled to the United Arab Emirates to conduct interviews regarding the Arab Spring’s impact on the UAE’s foreign policy and security strategy when he was accused of spying.

Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said: “We are devastated to learn that Matt Hedges has been sentenced to life in prison following his detention and trial in the United Arab Emirates.

“Following a period in which he was detained in conditions which breached his human rights 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.

“We are committed to doing what we can to get Matt home safely and swiftly and we will offer Daniela and Matt’s family our full support during the appeal period and thereafter, at what is an unimaginably difficult time for them.”

@ClaraGGaspar

Photograph: Daniela Tejada

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