Wife of British academic jailed in UAE accuses Foreign Office of failing husband ahead of meeting with Jeremy Hunt

Gareth Davies
Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada - PA

The wife of jailed academic Matthew Hedges said the Foreign Office ignored her weekly cries for help and has accused the Government of bowing to the UAE. 

Daniela Tejada still does not know where her husband is being held after he was jailed for life for spying on Wednesday following a five-minute hearing in front of an Emirati judge. 

Ahead of her first meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, she has accused the Foreign Office of a string of failings, including putting relations with the UAE above the freedom of British citizens. 

Talking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she said: "I had been trying to persuade them to do more on a weekly basis. 

"I asked for the Foreign Secretary's representation, firmer stances, and a more proactive approach. 

"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."

She said the Foreign Office should have acted more strongly from the start, not after Mr Hedges had spent up to six months in solitary confinement.

"I believe that they should have taken a firmer stance from the beginning, if not publicly then through their private representations. This is something I feel they failed to do throughout really," she said.

"They just disregarded my requests, they said it wasn't part of their job, it wasn't part of their duty. 

"On one occasion one of the case workers said the Foreign Office did not have a duty of care so weren't obliged to make such representations."

 Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada Credit: PA

Ms Tejada was given access to the courtroom on Wednesday, but Mr Hedges did not have a lawyer present and it was reported journalists had been banned from entering. 

When the judgement was handed down, meaning he could have to serve 25 years in prison, he started shaking. 

She said: "He was very, very scared when he was standing in front of the judge because we knew of the possibility of an arbitrary judgement. 

I asked him to look at me if he was feeling too nervous, which he tried to do a couple of times.  

"He started shaking when the translator told him the statement. He has to ask for him to to double check. 

"I can imagine he's just as distraught as I am." After arriving at Heathrow on Thursday morning, she told Today that they were separated by 10m to 20m during the sentencing hearing and that she does not know where he is being held.

She is working with her husband's court-appointed lawyer, who she was only met once, to build a case for an appeal. 

Ms Tejada said "all evidence against him is fabricated". 

Having asked the Foreign Office to take a firmer stance, she accused the Government of failing to do so. 

She will now meet Jeremy Hunt for the first time today.  

Jeremy Hunt to meet with jailed academic's wife

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, will meet the wife of Matthew Hedges on Thursday amid calls for immediate action against the United Arab Emirate over the jailing of the British academic.

The Foreign Office has been accused of handling the case of the PhD student  "appallingly" after the 31-year-old was handed a life term for spying during a five-minute hearing on Wednesday.

Mr Hunt is due to meet with the Durham University student's wife, Daniela Tejada, and the Foreign Secretary has threatened the UAE with "serious diplomatic consequences" if Mr Hedges is not freed.

The Federal Appeals Court of Abu Dhabi said Mr Hedges was found guilty of "spying on the UAE and providing sensitive security and intelligence information to third parties."

Local papers say police secured evidence of his activities from Mr Hedges' electronic devices and surveillance by Emirati intelligence. Durham University, meanwhile, said that there was no reason to believe Mr Hedges "was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research."

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan shake hands with Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt in Abu Dhabi Credit: Reuters

Ms Tejada's call for immediate action was 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."

Mr Hunt said the UK "will do everything we can to get him home".

"We see absolutely no evidence for any of the charges laid against him. We're very concerned for his welfare," 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."

The 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 over 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 securing Mr Hedges' 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, says he was tortured and raped while he was held in a Dubai jail over a fraud conviction that was later overturned.

 David Haigh

He warned that Mr Hedges' ordeal and other similar cases showed the UAE "isn't a safe country to go to as a tourist".

"Nothing's changed. It's getting worse and worse and worse, and why is it getting worse? Because no-one is doing anything about it. The governments are ignoring it," Mr Haigh said.

Theresa May said she was "deeply disappointed and concerned" by Mr Hedges' jailing and told MPs the UK "will continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emiratis".

Mr Hunt was "urgently seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed", the Prime Minister added.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Tory MP Crispin Blunt told Mrs May she should make clear to the UAE that "if he is not released, I don't see why we should be committed to their defence".

Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said he was "devastated" by the sentence.

He said: "There has been no information given on what basis Matt was handed this sentence and 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.

Cabinet minister warns of 'serious diplomatic repercussions' 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Foreign Office had been working "behind the scenes" to support Mr Hedges following his detention in the UAE.

"We have seen no evidence to back up these charges. There are clearly going to have to be serious diplomatic repercussions," he told the Today programme.

"The Foreign Secretary has already raised this case personally with the Crown Prince on November 12 - so before the hearing.

"So the Foreign Office has been acting on his behalf at the the highest possible levels.

"Of course we should support our citizens overseas when they are in these circumstances.

"The Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary have been working behind the scenes in order to try to support Matthew Hedges in this case ahead of it going public."

Nothing clandestine about research, university professor says

The university supervisor of British academic Matthew Hedges has said there had been nothing clandestine about his research in the country.

Professor Clive Jones of Durham University said Mr Hedges had been working on a thesis about civil-military relations in the UAE since the Arab Spring based on readily accepted literature.

"There was nothing clandestine or covert in any of the material he had been using up to date in the thesis," Prof Jones told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"He went to the United Arab Emirates to conduct a series of interviews to help flesh out some of the theories and some of the empirical evidence that he had actually collected."

He added: "If we had any inkling that Matt in any sense shape or form was going to be in danger, then of course we would not have agreed to let him go.

"Matt was no stranger to the United Arab Emirates. He had lived there on and off since the age of nine.

"He knew many of the people he was going out to interview so again it is utterly bizarre and indeed perverse and indeed a miscarriage of justice that this has befallen him."

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