Hedges, who was carrying out research in the UAE for a PhD at Durham University, was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison for the charges, which the British government says are baseless. Sputnik spoke to Hiba Zayadin, from Human Rights Watch, and asked if the British government had done enough to help Matthew Hedges.
Sputnik: The wife of Matthew Hedges has said that the British government has not done enough to assist her husband since he was arrested in May — apparently on one occasion she was told the Foreign office did not have a duty of care — should the government have done more?
Hiba Zayadin: Absolutely the British government should have done more in this case. They have been silent for far too long; he has been detained since May in pre-trial detention without charge, in solitary confinement, without access to legal counsel.
They have said on multiple occasions that they are raising things privately with their UAE counterparts but that obviously has had no impact.
Sputnik: Does it surprise you that more has not been done as after all this is a state accusing another state of espionage, it’s not just as straightforward as the plight of one individual?
Hiba Zayadin: It was definitely very alarming when it was revealed that he has been charged with spying for a foreign state and it was largely understood that this state was the UK, especially given the close ties between the two countries.
Definitely, the UK is able to do more, they have leverage with the UAE, they can pressure them, especially given trade ties, ties in academia, arms sales to the UAE; so the idea that they could not have done anything to guarantee him at the very least a fair trial.
Sputnik: How is this going to impact on academic research in UAE and the region as a whole now?
Hiba Zayadin: It’s definitely a really hard blow to people who want to engage and conduct academic research and scholarly enquiry into the region.
The UAE is clearly a dangerous country for academics to operate in, it always has been.
They have been conducting a sustained assault on freedom of expression since 2011; they’ve arrested academics, journalists, dissidents, and given them long prison sentences while at the same time they are claiming to preside over this global education and cultural hub and that is clearly not true and it’s clear their disregard for academic freedom.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Hiba Zayadin and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.