UK putting UAE relations above jailed academic’s freedom, wife says
Daniela Tejada criticised the Foreign Office over the handling of the case of Matthew Hedges.
The wife of a British academic jailed for life in the United Arab Emirates on an allegation of spying has accused the UK Government of putting relations with the Gulf state before her husband’s freedom.
Daniela Tejada condemned the Foreign Office over the handling of the case of 31-year-old PhD student Matthew Hedges, ahead of her meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday.
Mr Hunt has threatened the UAE with “serious diplomatic consequences” if Mr Hedges, originally from Exeter, is not freed, saying he has seen “absolutely no evidence” to support the charge.
The Cabinet minister is understood to have met with the UAE ambassador in London on Thursday morning and had a “very frank” conversation with him.
But Ms Tejada, having landed back at Heathrow Airport, said the UK had “failed” to take a firm stance over the Durham University student from the start of his ordeal.
“I was under the impression they were putting their interests with the UAE above a British citizen’s rightful freedom and his welfare,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“They were stepping on eggshells instead of taking a firm stance.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Foreign Office on the show for working “behind the scenes” to support Mr Hedges, with Mr Hunt appealing personally to the Crown Prince on November 12.
Ms Tejeda, who was at the Abu Dhabi court when Mr Hedges was sentenced during a five-minute hearing on Wednesday, is expected to quiz Mr Hunt over what efforts the Government will make to secure Mr Hedges’s release.
She entered the Foreign Office at about 3.15pm where she is expected to quiz Mr Hunt over what efforts the Government will make to secure Mr Hedges’s release.
She has made it clear she believes the UK should stop at nothing to free the “innocent” Briton, who was jailed after the UAE presented “completely fabricated” evidence.
If we can't resolve this there are going to be serious diplomatic consequences, because this is totally unacceptable Jeremy Hunt
Her calls for immediate action were echoed by Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who condemned the academic’s jailing and called for the Government to be resilient.
He wrote on Twitter: “This is ridiculous. Our Defence assistance, mentoring and intelligence relationships alone with this country should preclude absurd things like this happening. From a friend and partner, simply unacceptable.
“Consequences must be immediate until he is released.”
This is ridiculous. Our Defence assistance, mentoring and intelligence relationships alone with this country should preclude absurd things like this happening. From a friend and partner, simply unacceptable. Consequences must be immediate until he is released. Resilience required pic.twitter.com/ouvxfjJIBH— Johnny Mercer MP (@JohnnyMercerUK) November 21, 2018
Mr Hunt said the UK “will do everything we can to get him home” over the charges he has seen “absolutely no evidence for”.
He told Sky News: “The UAE is supposed to be a friend and ally of Britain’s. We’ve given them repeated assurances about Matthew.
“If we can’t resolve this there are going to be serious diplomatic consequences, because this is totally unacceptable.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, asked if it was now time to reconsider the close military links the UK has with the UAE, said: “The Foreign Secretary has already been out to the United Arab Emirates and he met the Crown Prince.”
Speaking on a visit to Tyneside, he said: “I know that the Foreign Secretary and the whole Foreign Office, who are leading our efforts to make sure that Mr Hedges is released, are putting everything in that they can do to make sure that his release comes as early as possible.
“He will be co-ordinating that effort and the whole of Government will be supporting him in doing that.”
Mr Hedges, a Middle Eastern studies specialist, was arrested at Dubai Airport on May 5.
A family representative said he had since been held in solitary confinement for more than five-and-a- half months, during which his “mental and physical health seriously deteriorated”.
Lawyer and human rights campaigner David Haigh said he was encouraged by Mr Hunt’s public stance, but warned that securing Mr Hedges’s release quickly was important.
He told the BBC’s World Tonight: “It’s urgent. I know what he will be going through. He’ll be in some form of national security jail and it’s horrific there.”
Mr Haigh, a former managing director of Leeds United, said he was tortured and raped while he was held in a Dubai jail over a fraud conviction.
Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by Mr Hedges’s jailing and told MPs the UK “will continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emiratis”.
Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said there is “no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research”.
A Foreign Office spokesman did not say what form any possible diplomatic consequences could take, but said a number of options are available.
Mr Hedges has 30 days to challenge the court ruling.