UAE appeals court sentences Matthew Hedges to life in prison

Matthew Hedges, 31, sentenced to life for spying and supplying sensitive information to external actors, family says.

    A court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced British student Matthew Hedges to life in prison after he was convicted of spying and supplying sensitive security information to external actors.

    Abu Dhabi's Federal Court of Appeal handed down the verdict on Wednesday, a move described as deeply disappointing by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

    "We can confirm that he was sentenced to life in prison. The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and his lawyer was not present," Hedges' family spokesperson told AFP news agency.

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    Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student at Durham University, was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport after a two-week research visit.

    He was researching the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 when he was detained.

    Hedges was formally charged in October with spying on the Gulf state, where he has been held in solitary confinement for the past six months.

    "I am in complete shock and I don't know what to do. Matthew is innocent," said Hedges wife, Daniela Tejada, who was present in the courtroom. 

    "The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice," she said in a statement, adding that her husband was shaking when he heard the verdict.

    "I am very scared for Matt. I don't know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse."

    'Deeply disappointed'

    Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's Middle East division, said the trial "was marred with such due process violations that there’s no way it could have been seen as a fair trial".

    Zayadin pointed to the fact that Hedges' confession, which was a "document in Arabic he was made to sign during the first six weeks of his detention" as one of the few pieces of evidence used against the academic, as concerning.

    "We don't know what the evidence is," said Zayadin.  

    "We already know the UAE is dangerous … for critics of any sort", said Zayadin, before adding the world knows "it's dangerous for academics as well".

    Earlier, PM May told the British parliament she was "deeply disappointed and concerned at today's verdict". 

    "We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level," said May.

    British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "deeply shocked and disappointed", adding that Wednesday's sentencing was not what London expected from an ally. 

    "Today's verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances," Hunt said in a statement. 

    "The handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries, which has to be built on trust.

    "I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider."

    Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said he was "devastated" to learn that Hedges has been sentenced to life.

    "This judgement has been delivered in the absence of anything resembling due process or a fair trial," he said in a statement.

    A life sentence for a non-Emirati entails a maximum of 25 years in jail and is followed by deportation, according to The National.

    The court ruled that his devices and research would be confiscated, the newspaper reported.

    Emirati authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies