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  • Detained in Dubai

Young British academic detained in UAE for ‘spying’


British citizen, and PhD student Matthew Hedges, 31, was arrested last May at Dubai airport as he sought to return to the UK after a research trip for his doctoral thesis at Durham University. He was transferred to an undisclosed detention facility in Abu Dhabi, accused of “spying for a foreign agency”. Matthew has been held mostly incommunicado ever since, and is facing allegations of violating the UAE’s national security.

Matthew is a respected academic and researcher,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and the leading legal expert on the UAE. “It is alarming that the UAE would accuse him of "spying" simply for pursuing research. We are not aware of the specific subject matter of his research in the UAE, but in the past he has studied the Muslim Brotherhood's activities, influence and agenda in the country, and around the region; and it is possible that the UAE authorities disliked what he has written in the past, and suspect him on purely political and ideological grounds”.

Those accused of national security violations in the UAE can be held without charge indefinitely. Matthew is being kept in solitary confinement, and has only been allowed two visits from consular officials.

Stirling continues, “Matthew's arrest sends a very dangerous signal to the academic community, without whose research and input it will be impossible for policy makers, both within the UAE and in the West, to formulate an informed approach to the region. While the UAE may want to present his arrest as a national security issue, it appears to us more to be a severe curtailment of free speech”.

Stirling explains that the UAE has become increasingly strict on its control of information about the country; censoring local media coverage, criminalising any form of criticism of the government, and restricting the use of social media platforms. “The UAE is extremely committed to controlling the way the country is perceived globally. They have hired PR firms in the US and UK to manage their image and counter any negative media coverage. We have seen them prosecute YouTube satirists in the past, and prohibit independent reviews by Human Rights activists. Detaining Matthew, and accusing him of a national security offence for conducting