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?