The family of a student who has been accused of spying maintain his innocence
British spying trial: Matthew Hedges due in Abu Dhabi court on Wednesday
British citizen Matthew Hedges is due to appear at the Federal Appeals Court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, charged with spying in the UAE.
Mr Hedges, 31, a PhD student at Durham University, appeared in a state security court last month, but the case was adjourned so that legal counsel could be provided.
He has been charged with trying to procure sensitive information while on a two-week trip to the UAE. His family and university professors maintain he was visiting the country to conduct academic research related to his PhD.
The UAE's Attorney General Dr Hamad Al Shamsi said that Mr Hedges spied "on behalf of or for a foreign state", without naming the country, while posing as an "academic researcher".
Dr Al Shamsi said that Mr Hedges had admitted to the charges against him during questioning, which was in line with “evidence and information gained from his electronic devices and investigations conducted by the UAE’s security agencies”.
Mr Hedges has not been convicted on the charges but the Federal Appeals Court hears cases related to state security and matters concerning the Royal Family.
“Matt is not guilty of what he is being charged with,” his wife, Daniela Tejada, told The Sunday Times.
Ms Tejada said that Mr Hedges, whose family used to live in Dubai, was “fascinated by Emirati security and threw himself into his research”, which focused on relationships between different tribes in the UAE.
Such trials used to be heard at the Federal Supreme Court, as in the case of three British plane spotters who were accused of spying after taking pictures of planes at Fujairah International Airport in 2015.
The men, two tourists and a UAE resident, were sentenced to two months in jail, with the decision of the court final.
However, those found guilty in the new court can appeal.
There is no clear clause in the law that defines the punishment for spying. “It depends which clause the prosecutor filed the case under,” said Ali Al Mannai, an Abu Dhabi criminal lawyer who has represented clients in the state security court.
Last year, an Emirati military officer was jailed for 15 years after being found guilty of spying for Iran.
Mr Hedges was reported to prosecutors by an Emirati who was concerned that the Briton had been asking questions related to sensitive information.
Prosecutors said he had been trying to secure confidential information to pass to a foreign agency. He was detained five months ago at Dubai International Airport as he was about to fly home.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said last week that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had raised the case with the UAE.
Mr Hedges was visited by two UK officials and by his wife in July.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said that the UK authorities had been reluctant to address the matter through the usual channels, but that the case had been “extensively discussed with UK colleagues” over the past five months.
Additional reporting by Haneen Dajani