The wife of a British student arrested for ‘espionage’ in Dubai yesterday begged Arab authorities to admit making a mistake and allow him home.
Matthew Hedges has been held for five months without trial in solitary confinement in a secret prison after being arrested at the airport on his way back to the UK.
His wife Daniela Tejada, who fears for her husband’s failing health, said he is ‘absolutely not a spy’.
Matthew Hedges, pictured with his wife Daniela Tejada, left, has spent the past five months in solitary confinement after being arrested in Dubai Airport
Her husband, 31, was seized at Dubai Airport on May 5 on his way home from a two-week research trip for his PhD at Durham University.
He was studying the impact of the Arab Spring on security policies in the United Arab Emirates for his thesis.
Mr Hedges’ mother was with him when he was arrested but police would not tell her anything.
Sources in the UAE said he would be charged with espionage. One claimed investigators had accused Mr Hedges of trying to procure ‘confidential information for a foreign agency’, believed to be neighbouring Gulf state Qatar.
But Mrs Tejada, 27, insisted: ‘He most certainly wasn’t. Not just because he knows the region very well, and he knows that it’s not a safe thing to do, but because he’s a man of integrity.
‘He would never do anything to compromise that. The only reason he went to the UAE was for his academic research.’
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised Mr Hedges’ case with Emirati authorities but his wife has decided to go public
She told the Mail: ‘It’s not just that I know him well. Of course, if he was really a spy, he wouldn’t be able to tell me, but he wouldn’t make a good spy at all. He would be too conspicuous.
‘The fair and just thing for the UAE to do would be to admit they’ve made a mistake and release him.’
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised the matter with his Emirati counterpart, and British officials have visited Mr Hedges twice, although they were prevented from discussing his case with the authorities.
British diplomats have been urging the family to be patient while they try to resolve the matter behind the scenes. But after Mr Hedges appeared in the secretive State Security Court on Wednesday accused of spying, without a lawyer, his frustrated wife decided to go public.
She said: ‘I have been very trusting and patient. But we can no longer go on like this. Matt needs our help.’
Miss Tejada has only been allowed to see her husband once in five months, in a ‘heart-breaking’ 45-minute police station visit in Abu Dhabi in July.
She said: ‘He was visibly shaking when he saw me. For the first part of the visit he didn’t look me in the eye and spoke in low voice and was very fidgety.
‘This is not typical of him. He is a self-confident, bubbly person.’
Colombian-born Miss Tejada, who met Mr Hedges at Exeter University in 2010, believes he is suffering depression and anxiety attacks and was ‘heavily medicated’ when she saw him. He has been vomiting every day for the past three months, she added.
The couple have been allowed weekly five-minute phone calls but are forbidden from discussing the case. Miss Tejada said: ‘Matt is a British citizen. More must be done to ensure he is safely brought home.’
The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but its authoritarian regime tolerates little public criticism.
Last year Mr Hedges, who spent his teenage years in Dubai and worked there before his research, co-wrote an article in an academic journal on the Muslim Brotherhood political movement, which the UAE regards as an enemy.
Radha Stirling, of Detained In Dubai and a legal expert on the UAE, said: ‘It is possible the authorities disliked what he has written, and suspect him on political and ideological grounds.’
She added it was almost certain charges would relate to espionage or defaming the government, which can carry prison sentences of around 10 years.
Intelligence sources said yesterday that Mr Hedges was not a British spy. And the Foreign Secretary said: ‘We are very worried about Mr Hedges. I’ve spoken to the Emirati foreign minister twice now on this matter face to face so they are aware of our concerns.’
Mr Hedges’ case was adjourned to October 24.