By Anna Tatham
A petition calling for charges to be dropped against currently imprisoned Durham PhD student Matthew Hedges has reached over 100,000 signatures.
The change.org petition, addressed to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was started by Matthew Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada-Venegas after Hedges was sentenced to life imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates yesterday, as previously reported by Palatinate.
Sources in the UAE claim “espionage material” was found on Hedges’ laptop, according to the BBC.
Hedges was reportedly held in solitary confinement for nearly six months, after being arrested on May 5th at Dubai Airport.
The 31-year-old 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.
Daniela Tejada-Venegas has called the charges “absurd” and says she has been unable to speak to Matthew since his sentencing yesterday.
She stated that Hedges had conducted research in the UAE before, like many of his colleagues, thus “it never crossed our mind that there would be anything to worry about with this trip.
“I am begging as many people as possible to back my petition calling on the British Government to do everything in their power to ensure the UAE let my husband come home.
Ms Tejada has criticised the Foreign Office for having “failed” Matthew, as she had contacted “on a weekly basis” since her husband’s arrest in May.
“They just disregarded my requests, they said it wasn’t part of their job, it wasn’t part of their duty,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I believe they should have taken a firmer stance from the beginning, if not publicly then through their private representations.
“This is something they failed to do throughout.
“He was being detained in unacceptable conditions for something that he didn’t do.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had “raised this case personally with the crown prince on 12 November”.
The Foreign Secretary said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict yesterday.
Ms Tejada today met with Mr Hunt in London to discuss her husband’s case.
Jeremy Hunt also met the UAE ambassador in London earlier for “a very frank conversation” and Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply concerned” by the situation.
Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said the University was “devastated” to learn about Matthew’s sentencing.
“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.”
You can sign the petition here
Photograph: Daniela Tejada