UAE: Release PhD Candidate Matthew Hedges

Posted November 21, 2018

An Emirati court has convicted and sentenced Durham University PhD candidate Matthew Hedges to life in prison, in apparent retaliation for research he was conducting in the UAE for his dissertation.

SAR has issued the below letter to Emirati officials and other stakeholders, urging state authorities to secure Mr. Hedges’ immediate and unconditional release from prison.

Join us and stand in solidarity with Matt by sharing this over social media and downloading and sending a copy of this letter under your own name today.

Via email to:

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum
Vice-President and Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
P.O. Box: 212000, Dubai
United Arab Emirates

November 21, 2018

RE: Release PhD candidate Matthew Hedges

Your Excellency:

I write on behalf of the Scholars at Risk Network to express grave concern over the conviction and sentencing of Durham University PhD candidate Matthew Hedges, in apparent retaliation for his peaceful exercise of the right to academic freedom. I respectfully urge you to instruct the relevant authorities to secure Mr. Hedges’ immediate and unconditional release.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 39 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases like that of Mr. Hedges, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, Scholars at Risk investigates hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.

Mr. Hedges is a citizen of the United Kingdom and a PhD candidate at Durham University’s School of Government and International Affairs. He has previously lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). SAR understands that in April 2018 Mr. Hedges traveled to Dubai to conduct research for his dissertation on Emirati foreign and security policies since the Arab Spring. During this trip, Mr. Hedges reportedly conducted interviews over the course of two weeks.

On May 5, Mr. Hedges was detained at Dubai International Airport as he was preparing to leave the UAE. Authorities then reportedly took him into custody at an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi and held him incommunicado for several weeks. Over the course of the next five months, Mr. Hedges reported restricted access to family, UK consular officials, and legal counsel, being denied access to showers for at least one month, and being forced to sleep on the floor of his cell for three months. SAR understands from Mr. Hedges’ wife that he suffers from anxiety and depression and has regularly expressed suicidal thoughts while in detention.

On October 10, Mr. Hedges attended his first hearing at the UAE state security court, during which he was finally allowed access to legal counsel. The court did not disclose the charges against him at this hearing. On October 29, state authorities ordered him released on bail until his next hearing. On November 21, Mr. Hedges appeared in court and was convicted of “spying on the UAE and providing sensitive security and intelligence information to third parties” and sentenced to life in prison. Reports indicate that Mr. Hedges was not accompanied by his lawyer during the hearing.

Mr. Hedges and his family have disputed accusations of espionage, asserting that he was in the UAE to conduct interviews for his dissertation. UAE officials have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary basis of the charges upon which he has been convicted. SAR understands that Mr. Hedges has the right to appeal this ruling within thirty days. If the conviction and sentencing are upheld, Mr. Hedges, as a non-Emirati citizen, is expected to serve a maximum of 25 years in prison, after which he would be deported and fined the costs of the trial.

We welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify our understandings. Absent this, Mr. Hedges’ conviction, sentencing, and the circumstances of his imprisonment and prosecution suggest a troubling disregard for international standards of academic freedom, due process, fair trial, and the humane treatment of prisoners, as guaranteed under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to Mr. Hedges, arbitrary prosecutions and imprisonments aimed at punishing and restricting academic activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

We therefore respectfully urge you to instruct the relevant authorities to secure Mr. Hedges’ immediate and unconditional release and, pending this, to ensure his well-being and access to legal counsel, family, and medical treatment.

We thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to your response.


Robert Quinn
Executive Director


His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
Crown Prince Court
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz
Al Saud Street, P.O. Box: 124, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

His Highness Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
P.O. Box 398, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

The Honorable Theresa May
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
House of Commons
Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA
United Kingdom

The Honorable Patrick Moody
British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates
British Embassy Abu Dhabi
Khalid bin Al Waleed St (Street 22)
PO Box 248, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

The Honorable Stephanie Al-Qaq
Deputy Head of Mission, United Arab Emirates
British Embassy Abu Dhabi
Khalid bin Al Waleed St (Street 22)
PO Box 248 Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10

Prof. Seong-Phil Hong
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14, avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10

The Honorable Mike Pompeo
United States Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
United States