By Madeleine Horton
A Durham University student accused of spying is currently being held in solitary confinement in the UAE, after apparently being detained five months ago following a research trip.
Matthew Hedges, 31, was reportedly taken into custody at Dubai Airport on 5 May as he was about to leave the country.
The PhD student had travelled to the United Arab Emirates to conduct interviews regarding the country’s foreign policy and security strategy.
Mr Hedges has been held without charge ever since. His wife, Daniela Tejada, who has been permitted to visit her husband just once during this time, said that his rights are being “violated on a daily basis”.
The student’s case had been raised by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt with his Emirati counterpart amid significant concerns over his mental health and wellbeing.
British officials have also visited Mr Hedges twice, however he is said to have been prevented from discussing any details with them.
The Foreign Office has refused to comment directly on the case, or confirm that Mr Hedges is being held.
A Foreign Office spokesman stated: “Our staff are supporting a British man following his detention in the UAE. We are assisting his family and remain in close contact with authorities.”
The exact nature of the alleged offences has not been revealed.
In an email sent to Durham students, Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge said: “We are seriously concerned about Matt’s welfare and wellbeing. We remain in close contact with his family, and we continue to offer our full assistance to efforts to bring Matt home safely and swiftly.”
He also requested that students do not comment on social media about Matthew’s situation.
The case was heard by an Abu Dhabi court on Wednesday, where Mr Hedges was permitted to consult with a lawyer. However, the court was adjourned until an additional hearing on 24 October.
Ms Tejada said that: “All I want is for Matt to come home. The longer this goes on, the longer the recovery from this traumatic experience will take.”
“I am extremely worried about Matt’s mental health and general wellbeing. I am shocked and confused by the whole situation and will do everything I can to make sure he comes home soon.”
“We cannot believe this has happened. We have been patient and done everything that has been advised, supposedly in Matt’s best interest, but we can no longer go on like this.
“Matt is a brilliant researcher, a man of integrity, and he has been punished in the most unjust and unfair way. His rights are violated on a daily basis and I am shocked that more has not been done to get him out,” she said in a statement.
“Matt is a British citizen; he visited the UAE exclusively for academic research purposes and has been detained without charge for over five months in an undisclosed location. This is appalling and more must be done to ensure he is safely brought home.”
Mr Hedges’s research includes Middle Eastern politics, civil-military relations and tribalism, and the changing nature of war.
Ms Tejada said the UK should review its educational ties with the UAE in light of Mr Hedges’s detention, warning academic researchers like him “face great risks in the UAE”.
His confinement has raised concerns among academics about the freedom of university researchers to operate abroad.
Photograph: Maddie Flisher