UK-UAE relationship over Matthew Hedges

There are many ways to get arrested in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Remember a US-born English teacher, arrested and banged up for five days in a cockroach-infested Abu Dhabi prison? He was shackled in leg-iron and dumped in the hell-hole because he missed a bank payment on his £93,000 debt. The 52-year-old, who didn’t want to be named, revealed that a guard threatened him that he would be sent to a prison in the middle of the desert that had murderers and Russian mafia as residents. All because he failed to pay on his debt on time.

Remember Jamie Harron? The Briton who was sentenced to three months in prison after being convicted of alleged indecency Dubai? It was only after international criticism that he was released. But by then, Jamie had already been shamed.

Remember Lee Bradley Brown, a British tourist who died in custody in Dubai six days after he was arrested for verbally assaulting a Nepalese maid? Four British citizens, who were being held at the same police station, confirmed Brown was badly beaten and tortured.

If a debt defaulter, a supposed indecent man and a verbal abuser can be subjected to such horror, what chance does an alleged spy have?

Matthew Hedges, a British academic, has been awarded life sentence for allegedly spying in the UAE for the UK Government. UAE’s attorney general, Hamad al-Shamsi, says Matthew has confessed to the charges. But it is a one-sided story without any independent confirmation. In any case, it’s easy to break a man and force him to admit after he has suffered six months in prison already.

There was no fair play. The so-called hearing lasted less than five minutes. The scholar had no legal representation. The autocratic handling of his case indicates UAE has no established standard of decency. There is no honour.

His wife, Daniela Tejada, has urged the UK Government to take a stand for its citizen. And she doesn’t mean a routine statement of displeasure at the incident from the foreign office.

Prime Minister Theresa May is apparently deeply disappointed and concerned. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned UAE of severe consequences. It is all rhetoric. When it comes to action, the UK Government has shown very little spine.

Jamal Khashoggi’s murder triggered unprecedented global damning of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman. Matthew’s case should evoke nothing less. He may not have been murdered, but the prospect of spending an entire life in hostile and humiliating conditions will surely kill his spirit.

The United Kingdom has a warm relationship with the UAE. But this warmth is not born out of UK’s belief in UAE’s moral standards. This is a partnership based on pure interest. As long as the UAE continues to buy weapons, among other things, from the UK, they are willing to ignore their war crimes and human rights violations.

UAE, after Saudi Arabia, is the second largest importer of weapons in the Middle East and was listed as the world’s third largest importer of weapons between 2012 and 2016.

Most of its weaponry comes from the UK. UK companies have profited from war and oppression around the world, sending a clear message that human rights are of less importance than profit.

But this a dangerous mentality that could potentially turn common Britons against their own regime. There is nothing as fatal for a Government as losing the respect of its own people. It must put ethics alongside commerce if it wants to preserve that respect.

Moreover, the UK must understand that when it comes to critical situations, UAE has proven to be unreliable.

In 2015, the UAE threatened the UK Government that it would block millions of Pounds of arms deals, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if David Cameron did not act against the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is a critical situation for the United Kingdom. And it should send a strong message that translates into action.

Foreign Secretary raised the Hedges case when he was in Dubai last week, but failed to make an impression on UAE’s foreign minister, Anwar Gargash. He believes the conviction of Hedges is based on credible trial. The UAE, for now, is not budging. Hedges has 30 days to appeal the sentence.

UAE is fast turning into a State that is dangerous for British and other foreign academics and students. Experts and lecturers have warned UK universities to review their ties with the UAE in light of Hedges’ life imprisonment. University of Birmingham’s proposed £100m Dubai campus is likely to be shelved.

Sometimes, this is how a full-scale boycott starts.