Durham PHD candidate and former University of Exeter student Matthew Hedges has been pardoned by the United Arab Emirates government.
Hedges had been initially charged with a life sentence for espionage while he was in the UAE doing research into their security for his PHD. The young academic-in-training, aged 31, was detained at Dubai airport in May and charged last week. Hedges was allegedly instructed to sign a confession in Arabic, a language he is not fluent in, which led to the initial life sentence of up to 25 years.
“Exeter UCU welcomes the pardon of Matthew Hedges, whilst, along with the British Government, still disputing the original charges.”
– João Florêncio, Branch Secretary of Exeter UCU
In a phone call to Hedges after his sentencing, it was revealed that the Briton was ‘not doing well’. His wife, Daniela Tejada, had been campaigning for his release and said that she is ‘elated’ that her husband is coming home.
Several British Universities cut ties with the UAE, or threatened to, including the Universities of Exeter and Durham in response to Hedge’s detention and subsequent sentence.
Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge responded to the news of Hedge’s release saying, “We are absolutely delighted to learn the news of Matt’s impending release. It is paramount that he is now allowed to return home to Daniela and his family as quickly and safely as possible. We will continue to offer Matt’s family our full support in the aftermath of this traumatic ordeal and we will be thrilled to welcome him back to the Durham University community.”
“We will continue to offer Matt’s family our full support in the aftermath of this traumatic ordeal”
– Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice Chancellor of Durham University
A spokesperson for the University of Exeter said, “We are extremely pleased that Matt Hedges has been pardoned. The priority now remains for Matt to return safely home to his family and friends as quickly as possible, and we remain committed to offering and providing every level of support, help and assistance during this time.” The University has historically received substantial funding from the UAE, and sends students to the UAE regularly for both Undergraduate and Postgraduate study.
Various branches of the University College Union met last week to decide on a response to Hedge’s conviction. Exeter UCU voted on Friday 23 November to suspend academic relationships with the UAE. Branch Sectretary for Exeter UCU, João Florêncio, said:
“Exeter UCU welcomes the pardon of Matthew Hedges, whilst, along with the British Government, still disputing the original charges. We also welcome the swift public condemnation of his sentencing across the UK HE sector. British Universities will now have to think further about how to better ensure the safety of staff and researchers conducting work abroad, and to prevent unfortunate situations like this from happening again. Exeter UCU will continue to work in partnership with our university to protect the freedoms of academics in British universities.”