U.A.E. Charges British Student With Spying for Foreign State

(Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates charged a British student with espionage and jeopardizing the Gulf state’s military, security and economy.

University of Durham doctoral student Matthew Hedges was accused using evidence obtained from his electronic devices as well as information gleaned from surveillance and intelligence, the U.A.E.’s attorney general, Hamad Al Shamsi, said in a statement late Monday. Academic research was a “cover” for his spying activities, and Hedges corroborated the evidence, he said.

The academic’s wife, Daniela Tejada, denied the allegations, saying in a statement that Hedges was studying the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings on the U.A.E.’s foreign policy and security strategy. The U.A.E. didn’t name the country the Briton was accused of spying for, but Tejada said it was the U.K.

The disclosure marks a rare case of going public with an espionage case between the U.K. and the U.A.E., which maintain cordial ties. The seven-state federation, which includes Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has taken a hard line on political Islam and domestic activism since 2011, when revolutions swept through the Middle East and North Africa and threatened the established order across the Arab world. The U.A.E. declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and cracked down on suspected sympathizers at home, jailing dozens.

“The charges against Matt are false and unsubstantiated, as is the purported evidence to support them,” Tejada said. Hedges spent almost six months in solitary confinement before being charged, she said.

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said its staff are providing support and keeping in close contact with the U.A.E. authorities. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote on Twitter that he raised the issue twice with his Emirati counterpart, stressing “the need for regular consular access, fair & humane treatment as well as due process.”

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