British Academic Charged With Spying in United Arab Emirates Temporarily Released, Wife Says

October 30, 2018 Updated: October 30, 2018

DUBAI/LONDON—A British academic charged with espionage in the United Arab Emirates has been temporarily released until his next hearing on Nov. 21, his wife said Oct. 30.

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old doctoral student at Durham University, has been held since May 5, when he was arrested at the Dubai airport after a two-week research visit. He was formally charged this month with spying on the Gulf state, where he has been held in solitary confinement.

Hedges was released on Oct. 29 and will be subject to constant monitoring until the November hearing, said his wife, Daniela Tejada, adding that they were not notified in advance that he would be released.

“I of course welcome this development. However, I cannot allow myself to get too excited by this information as Matt is not fully free yet,” she said in a written statement.

Reuters earlier reported, citing sources, Hedges had been released on bail.

The BBC reported Hedges has been released without his passport, told to remain in the UAE until the next hearing, and must wear an ankle monitor.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai
The Burj Khalifa is seen from Al Qasr hotel in the Old Town in downtown Dubai on Sept. 11, 2012. (Reuters/Jumana ElHeloueh/File Photo)

A UAE government spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment outside working hours.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s foreign office in London said, “We are monitoring developments closely and have made the Emirati authorities aware of all our concerns. We continue to do everything we can for Matthew and his family.”

The UAE’s Federal Court of Appeal has postponed hearing his case until Nov. 21 to re-examine the evidence.

‘Spying For a Foreign State’

The country’s attorney general has said Hedges was charged with spying for a foreign state, without naming it, and jeopardizing the military, economic, and political security of the country.

More than 120 academics from around the world have issued a petition urging UAE authorities to release him.

According to Durham University’s website, Hedges is a doctoral student in the School of Government and International Affairs whose research interests include civil-military relations, political economy, and tribalism.

Last year, he co-wrote an article in an academic journal on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the UAE is a member.

The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but tolerates little public criticism of its ruling families or policies and staunchly opposes the Islamist ideology of the Brotherhood.

“The UAE invests considerable time and money painting itself as a progressive and tolerant country, but Hedges’ case shows the face of an autocratic government with a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director, Michael Page, said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously raised Hedges’ case with UAE authorities.

“Foreign Office officials are supporting Mr. Hedges and his family and have raised the case with the Emiratis at the highest levels,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament. “The Foreign Secretary has personally raised his case with his Emirati counterparts.”

State-backed media in the UAE reported in late September that the attorney general had ordered a trial for a foreign national accused of spying, without elaborating on his identity.

The English-language newspaper The National said at the time that investigators had determined the man was trying to procure “confidential information” for a foreign agency, and that he admitted to spying during questioning.

In a previous statement, Tejada said her husband had been made to sleep on the floor and allowed to shower only once during his first month in detention. After three months of solitary confinement, she said, he was given a foam mattress.

“I am extremely worried about Matt’s mental health and general well-being,” she said.

By Alexander Cornwell & Elisabeth O’Leary