The wife of Matthew Hedges, a British academic imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates on spying charges, said he wasn’t even allowed to look at her during the five-minute hearing where he was sentenced to life in prison.
“I asked him to look at me if he was feeling too nervous, and he tried to do so on a couple of occasions but was asked to face the judge,” Daniela Tejada told the BBC’s “Today” program on Thursday.
Tejada also said she was not able to talk to him after he was sentenced on Wednesday, in a hearing at which he had no lawyer present, on charges of spying for the British government.
“We were separated by about 10 to 20 meters, and as soon as the sentence was given, we were both made to leave the room immediately,” she said.
Hedges, a 31-year-old doctoral student in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, has been in detention since he was arrested at the airport in Dubai in May. He was not allowed any legal representation until his third court hearing, the UK newspaper The Guardian reported.
Tejada said Hedges had to ask to hear the verdict again to “double check if he had heard right.”
The UAE’s attorney general, Hamad Al Shamsi, said Hedges would have the right to appeal the verdict before the federal supreme court, though Tejada told the “Today” program that she had been able to speak to his court-appointed lawyer only once about this possibility.
She said she did not yet have confirmation of where he is now being held, adding, “I can imagine he’s just as distraught as I am.”
The UK government has condemned the sentence and said it could have serious diplomatic consequences for the relationship between the two allies.
The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted on Wednesday that the UK government had “seen no evidence to back up charges against” Hedges. He said his office would do “ALL we can to get him home.”
“UAE claim to be friend & ally of the UK so there will be serious diplomatic consequences. Unacceptable,” he wrote.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” about the case and would raise it with authorities in the UAE.
But Tejada said the government “should have taken a firmer stance from the beginning” and that the Foreign Office had been dismissive of her repeated requests for help in a bid to preserve its relationship with an ally.
“They were stepping on eggshells instead of taking a firm stance,” she said.
The UAE said Hedges pleaded guilty to the charges when he was being cross-examined, The Guardian reported.
But Tejada said that any admissions her husband might have made after months of detainment and solitary confinement should not be considered valid.
“He was put through so much strain for six months that absolutely nothing that he said — or didn’t — can be used against him,” Tejada said.
“The core issue was that he was being detained and he was being held … for something that he didn’t do,” she said.