Staff and students at University of Birmingham held a vigil near Old Joe Clock Tower yesterday (19 November), calling for the safe return of Matt Hedges, the Durham University PhD student currently being held in UAE (United Arab Emirates) on spying for a foreign power.
Matt Hedges is currently on bail in UAE, having been imprisoned there for nearly 6 months in solitary confinement. He is due in court on Wednesday 21 November on espionage charges amidst concerns about the credibility of the charges, his welfare and abuse of his legal rights.
Professor Clive Jones of Durham University said: “The allegations of espionage are baseless and a profound threat to the pursuit of legitimate academic enquiry, not just by Matt but by all academics working on and in the UAE.”
Links between Matt Hedges case and new University of Birmingham Dubai campus
Matt’s case has heightened concerns of staff and students at University of Birmingham who have been actively raising concerns about human rights, particularly for the LGBTQ community as identifying as transgender, same-sex relations, and advocacy of LGBTQ is illegal on the campus under UAE laws.
Birmingham UCU Branch President James Brackley said: “We want to sent our full support and solidarity to Matt at this difficult time and wish him and his family the very best of luck in securing his release.
He added: “Matt’s case highlights the threat to academic freedom and the severe consequences risked by staff working in the UAE. We are especially concerned at the lack of assurances over the safeguarding of LGBTQ staff and students. Matt’s case shows that once you’re detained you’re entirely at the mercy of the Dubai authorities. The Vice Chancellor is putting business interests above the safety and rights of staff and students.’
Matt’s family welcomes the vigil saying “Thank you for being here and for caring. Our fight goes on until Matt is released into the safe care of his wife, family and friends.”
Statement from Matt Hedges’ family
At the vigil, Birmingham UCU Branch President James Brackley read out the following statement from Matt’s family and his supporters:
The Academic Community is united in its profound concern about Matt Hedges after almost six months of detention in the UAE. The move to charge Matt with espionage, coming after more than five months in detention in conditions that fall manifestly short of any accepted international standards, is entirely without justification.
Matt is a member of our academic community, someone pursuing his legitimate doctoral research at Durham University on the basis of astute assessment of the existing scholarly literature, through assiduous collection and analysis of publicly available material, and through the collection of interview data. Matt completed his research ethics application, acknowledging fully his academic obligations of, firstly openness with his interviewees about the nature and purpose of his work; secondly, the importance of gaining their informed consent to participate; and thirdly, the rights of interviewees to both full anonymity if desired and to withdraw their consent and any materials provided to Matt at any point. The allegations of espionage are baseless and a profound threat to the pursuit of legitimate academic enquiry, not just by Matt but by all academics working on and in the UAE.
His family would like to thank all academic colleagues around the world and the professional associations who have expressed their support for Matt’s innocence through signing letters, issuing powerfully compelling statements, and through their efforts, such as this gathering to raise Matt’s case within their own Universities and in the public domain.
Thank you for being here and for caring. Our fight goes on until Matt is released into the care of his wife, his family and friends.
Keep up-to-date with the case
Matt Hedges is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow (21 November). You can keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the case by following Birmingham UCU on Twitter @BirminghamUCU.