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Birmingham University 'boycotts' UAE campus after British academic Matthew Hedges jailed

Matthew Hedges was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May [Twitter]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2018

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A United Arab Emirates court sentenced British student Matthew Hedges to life in jail on spying charges on Wednesday, prompting a "shocked" Britain to warn of repercussions.

Lecturers from the University of Birmingham will refuse to teach at its Dubai campus after the UAE sentenced British PhD student Matthew Hedges to life in jail for spying.

The move is part of an academic boycott of the university’s Dubai campus following a motion passed on Thursday by staff to stop providing academic support, including teaching, course materials and exam marking.

"We call on the university to enter into meaningful negotiations with the trade unions to ensure they protect the safety and wellbeing of staff and students on the Dubai campus," James Brackley, the president of the Birmingham branch of the University and College Union (UCU), said, according to The Guardian.

"We also call on them to hold back on the expansion of the campus until safeguards are in place."

Brackely wrote an email to staff saying "the case of Matthew Hedges shows quite clearly that once someone is detained in Dubai, they will be entirely at the mercy of the Dubai authorities," The Guardian reported.

A vigil had been held for Hedges at the University of Birmingham on Monday.

The sentencing of 31-year-old Hedges, of Durham University, on Wednesday shocked Britain and put political pressure on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to act.

Britain views the UAE as a strategic Middle East ally which it supplies with arms.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told a session of parliament she was "deeply disappointed" and instructed the Foreign Office to "continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emiratis".

During prime minister's questions, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt told May that if Hedges "is not released, I don't see why we should be committed to their [the UAE’s] defence".

Another Conservative MP Johnny Mercer called on Britain to re-examine its military ties with the UAE following Hedges' sentencing.

"From a friend and partner, it is simply unacceptable and consequences must be immediate until he [Mr hedges] is released," he said.

Hedges's wife Daniela Tejada gave an impassioned interview to BBC radio on her return from the court hearing.

She accused the Foreign Office of placing its interests above those of an innocent Briton.

"I got the impression that they were putting their interests with the UAE above a British citizen's rightful freedom and his welfare and his right to just a fair trial, just to freedom," Tejada said.

"They were stepping on eggshells instead of taking a firm stance."

Hedges was detained at Dubai airport on 5 May while visiting to research the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 for his academic work.

He had been imprisoned in solitary confinement for months.

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