On the evening of the 19th November, Birmingham University College Union (UCU) held a candlelight vigil on UoB’s campus, in support of PhD student Matthew Hedges, who had be detained in UAE since May
PhD student Matthew Hedges, who had been jailed for life after being found guilty of spying in the United Arab Emirates, has been freed after a pardon.
The pardon was issued by the UAE as part of a series of orders on the country’s National Day anniversary. Despite this, a spokesman said that Mr Hedges was ‘100% a secret service operative’.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Hedges wife, Daniela Tejada said: ‘It’s taken me by surprise and I’m just so happy and so relieved and really incredulous that it is all happening finally.
‘It’s been an absolutely nightmarish seven months already and I can’t wait to have him back home.’
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said: ‘As we’ve been clear, we didn’t agree with the charges, but we are grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue.’
The University of Durham student was visiting UAE on a research trip when he was convicted of ‘spying for or on behalf of’ the UK government.
Hedges had been detained in UAE since May, after attempting to leave the country following a study trip. Hedges had been reportedly researching the effect of the Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policy and security strategy.
Tejada told The Times that whilst she visited him in solitary confinement, her husband was suffering from depression and panic attacks. However, a statement released by the UAE government said that a welfare review has shown that Hedges had access to ‘constant medical attention and psychological care.’
On the evening of the 19th November, Birmingham University College Union (UCU) held a candlelight vigil on UoB’s campus to support Hedges. According to the Facebook event created, the vigil intended to ‘put pressure on the UAE authorities to release Matthew and to draw attention to risks students and staff face studying and working in the UAE, including the University of Birmingham’s controversial new Dubai campus.’
UCU representative James Moran read a statement from the Hedges family while members of UCU stood behind with signs.
‘The academic community is united in its profound concern about Matthew Hedges after almost six months of detention in the UAE,’ Moran read. ‘The move to charge Matt with espionage coming after more than 5 months of detention and conditions that fall manifest to be short of any executive international standards is entirely without justification.
‘The allegations of espionage are baseless and are a found threat to the pursuit of legitimate academic enquiry, not just by Matt but by all academics working on or in the UAE.’
A representative from the University of Birmingham spoke to Redbrick on Matthew’s vigil, saying: ‘We understand the high level of concern around the recent case of a Durham University PhD student. However, it is important to note that every university has its own policies that govern the way staff and students live, travel, study and undertake research internationally.
‘As such individual universities would expect to manage any issues relating to their own staff or students in accordance with their policies and with informed assistance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from their own insurers; interference by other institutions would then potentially be unhelpful.’