Questions not asked, public not informed

From the BBC:

A British PhD student has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Matthew Hedges, 31, of Durham University, always denied the charge saying he had been conducting research.

A court in Abu Dhabi has declared him guilty of “spying for or on behalf of” the UK government. His family claim the verdict is based on a false confession.

The PM said the UK was urgently seeking talks with the Emirati government.

Theresa May said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed”.

Mr Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.

I read the entire article hoping to discover the details of his arrest and what the UAE authorities thought he was doing, but alas it’s comprised mainly of people saying how unjustly he’s been treated. To get further details you have to follow a link:

Mr Hedges, 31, a PhD student at Durham University in the UK, was convicted by the Federal Court of Appeal for attempting to procure sensitive information during a trip to the Emirates this year.

Mr Hedges was first arrested at Dubai International Airport in May after an Emirati man told police he had been asking for sensitive information.

And from an earlier BBC report we learn:

His family said he had been researching the impact of the Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policy and security strategy when he was arrested.

So what form did this research take? Who did he approach, and what information did he ask for? Clearly he was after something which couldn’t have been obtained sitting at home on the internet. Frankly, if you’re going around the Middle East asking individuals about their country’s foreign policy and security in the wake of a series of violent revolutions in neighbouring states, you’re likely to annoy the wrong people. And why are we relying on what his family is saying?

Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said the conditions Hedges was held in “breached his human rights”.

“[And] this judgement has been delivered in the absence of anything resembling due process or a fair trial,” he said.

“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.

Then why not elaborate on the form of this research? And did the university not warn him of the dangers of poking your nose into government affairs in the Middle East?

I’m reminded of the case of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (see here and here), who trained Iranian journalists on behalf of the BBC, found herself in jail when she went back home, and all our media could do is obscure her activities and declare she was innocent. Now she might be, and Matthew Hedges might be too, and I am certain neither has had a fair trial. But can someone ask some basic questions before we start wrecking diplomatic relations with yet another country?

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26 thoughts on “Questions not asked, public not informed

  1. We have a long history with the Trucial States so I doubt there’s much we don’t already know.
    We have “diplomats” to guage the mood on the street.
    We can bug their London residences. The staff can’t be stopped from gossiping when the boss isn’t there.
    The guy was leaving, no accusation that he was carrying any other info than what was in his head.
    The UAE knows this.

    So cui bono?
    I can only imagine a freelancer preparing blackmail or acting for a third party.

  2. I can remember being asked to wait for our Govt hire car in Dubai because they were having problems fitting the roof lining back on. You could see this through the large window into the garage.

    Not that they said so, but having just taken it of to install the bug.

    Hire car franchise was owned by the UAE Defence Minister.

  3. The PM said the UK was urgently seeking talks with the Emirati government.

    Theresa May said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed”.

    What, they can’t even get him on the phone?

    British incompetence or the UAE is trying to send a message – I wonder which?

  4. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was an Iranian fomenting revolution in Iran. Can’t say I blame her but not really our beeswax.

    But I don’t see why we should take the BS decision of some rag head camel court lying down.

    Freeze all the ADIA assets in London – that’s a few billion – and head over to Mayfair and pull a few emirati princelings out of whatever hookers they are balls deep in. Sit on them until we get some proper answers.

  5. MC,

    It has to be said that countries that have the rule of law, habeas corpus and all that, are at somewhat of a disadvantage in securing such bargaining chips.

    Of all the places in the middle east I cannot fathom why people want to go to Dubai. But then I like spending time in Israel, so I am odd.

  6. Some fairly big stuff going down politically out there right now. The UAE are re-establishing diplomatic relations with Syria, rumors that the Qatari split may about to be hosed down, reportedly stopping the killing of civilians in Yemen, the kerfuffle over the Saudi Clown Prince and the Khashoggi hit (if he was) and a political crisis in Israel.

    A perfectly acceptable time to lock up a nosy pom.

  7. “Of all the places in the middle east I cannot fathom why people want to go to Dubai.”

    For poms its the new Benidorm, sun, booze, shagging and shopping. I travel their frequently for business and had arranged a trip to coincide with my mothers eightieth birthday celebration in the UK. She wanted to celebrate it at a place on the Mull of Kintyre including a speed boat trip from Campbeltown across the Irish Sea to Ballycastle.

    My flight from Dubai was to Glasgow, when I got to the gate it was cluttered with a gathering of unruly lower socio-economic jocks with Celtic and Rangers tops and designer sneakers, pallets of duty free, wee waynes running amok, psycho killer wimen with inch thick make up and none of them switched their phones off during take off. I thought to myself this must have been what a flight to Benidorm would have been like a generation before.

  8. Bardon,

    For exactly the same reason, I always fly business class when I go back to Manchester.

  9. All those countries supposedly superior to Britain, yet there’s nary a single one with a functioning justice system if you believed our media. Funny, that!

  10. @Tim N

    I’m with you.

    Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was goading Iran and brought her child with her as a hostage/sympathy cover. Iran observed her activities and arrested her when she tried to leave.

    Foolish virtuous Matthew Hedges researching Arab Spring – a radical islam uprising – researching why not in UAE? Dangerous territory, don’t go there.

    As for: “Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said the conditions Hedges was held in “breached his human rights”.” Do shut up on the SJW spiel.

    Fair trial? Not available in many EU Countries and increasingly in UK as CPS & Police conceal evidence.

    New CPS Head says Police should not look for or at any evidence that might prove the accused innocent.

  11. Pcar – “New CPS Head says Police should not look for or at any evidence that might prove the accused innocent.” – Eh?

  12. If Saudi princes are being thrown into the Hilton gulags, then no one is safe. Despite the veneer of Western comforts, the country is a dangerous place to be – especially for feckless university students with more education than common sense.

  13. “New CPS Head says Police should not look for or at any evidence that might prove the accused innocent.”

    He discusses this on this week’s R4 Law in Action. Its quite nuanced but appears to be giving cover to incompetent coppers and CPS bods rather than being vindictively not looking for evidence.

  14. New CPS Head says Police should not look for or at any evidence that might prove the accused innocent.

    The laddie would be well advised to choose his words most carefully.

    There’s quite some precedent surrounding the matter of exculpatory evidence, and the obligation to find such.

  15. There once was a young British guy,
    Who thought he could LARp as a spy,
    The Arabs were mad,
    The family was sad,
    Now he’ll never come home from Dubai.

  16. @BIG- “For exactly the same reason, I always fly business class when I go back to Manchester.”

    I do too and mostly on A380’s which means that you also have grade separation from them. Although Glasgow Airport cant accommodate A380’s, meaning that there is a higher than usual direct intermingling exposure with them, plus they must walk past your seat on the way in.

  17. People who go poking around in wasps nests tend to get stung, regardless of their intentions. If you’ve got to 31 and received an alleged ‘education’ in international affairs you should have worked that one out. I’m a soil grubbing peasant without so much as a 3rd class degree to my name but even I’ve worked that if you go around poking into the affairs of autocratic States you tend to get arrested and thrown in jail.

  18. Well that’s another arts graduate won’t be sponging off the taxpayer for a good while. There must be endless countries with dodgy judicial systems & deep dark secrets need investigating by keen grads. Maybe it’d be possible to arrange some sort of discount deal with airlines. Only one way, of course…

  19. He was playing with fire. He wrote an article on the Muslim Brotherhood and the GCC and about the history of the relationship between the GCC and UAE, which has been very fractious recently.

    https://www.mepc.org/journal/gcc-and-muslim-brotherhood-what-does-future-hold

    He also works(ed?) for a Washington DC geopolitical risk consultancy, which may mean that the spying he’s being accused of might be for the US rather than for the UK. I find the instant demands that the UK government force the furriners to hand over the individual foolish.

  20. But I don’t see why we should take the BS decision of some rag head camel court lying down.

    Well, yes. I wouldn’t mind seeing the British government behaving with far more balls when dealing with foreign governments, but we don’t, we have a bunch of wet nappies who will do nothing but make noise. And if they’re going to grow some balls, I’d rather this newfound courage was deployed against the EU rather than getting a student about whom the media is telling us little out of jail.

  21. Compare and contrast with Trump’s actions versus Turkey “Until you free the guy, sanctions are in, call me when you’re ready, I might pick up the phone”.

  22. @Tim N

    And if they’re going to grow some balls, I’d rather this newfound courage was deployed against the EU rather than getting a student about whom the media is telling us little out of jail.

    I’m now at the stage where if BBC/C4 et al support someone/something or reverse; I take the opposite view until/if they prove their agenda is in the best interests of UK as all too often their agenda is anti-UK.

    Tim et al, does Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Swiss etc MSM report with an anti their country agenda?

  23. An article in a major UK paper asking “what if he really was a spy” could hurt his chances of getting out. It’s obvious he’s been treated unfairly and possibly abused, so the journalists would be playing on the abuser’s side. In addition, secret trials – as a rule – make it impossible to get any reliable information on the case at all. (In contrast, an open trial – even if the judges are clearly biased – allows reporters to hear the same evidence as the judges.) As to whether he should have traveled to Dubai in the first place, the UK owes much of its outsized influence and intelligence capability to people like him. Staying at home is safer, of course.

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