UAE Authorities Release Academic Accused of Spying on Bail
On Tuesday Oct. 30, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) released on bail a British academic accused of espionage.
Emirati authorities arrested Matthew Hedges, a PhD candidate at Durham University, in Dubai on May 5 and reportedly held him in solitary confinement for almost six months.
Hedges denies spying for the UK government.
Emirati officials have told Hedges to stay in the UAE until his next court appearance on Nov. 21.
Hedges had reportedly been researching the impact of the Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policy and security strategy when he was arrested.
Hedges’ case is the most recent in the UAE’s extensive history of censoring content – academic or otherwise – that the government deems a threat to its rule.
Ever since the Arab Uprisings took place in various Middle Eastern countries in 2010-2011, the Emirati government has become terrified of disorder that could weaken the ruling families’ grip on power. The government therefore censors any content that it deems a threat to the existing social order.
In September last year, the Emirati government refused visas to two NYU professors intending to teach classes at NYU’s satellite campus in Abu Dhabi during the Fall 2017 semester. The Emirati government said that the two professors, Mohamad Bazzi and Arang Keshavarzian, did not pass their security screenings. However, Professor Bazzi, who teaches in the journalism department, alleges that the UAE denied their visas because they are both of Shi’a origin.
The UAE has a particularly fraught relationship with Iran, in part to a dispute over the possession of three islands in the Persian Gulf. The UAE also fears the destabilizing effects Iran’s ascendancy in the Middle East may have on it, and resultantly treats Shi’as with hostility.
In March 2015, the UAE barred another NYU Professor, Andrew Ross, from entering the country. A year before he was barred, Professor Ross had written an article for the New York Times highlighting the poor conditions in which laborers were building NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus. Ostensibly, the UAE wanted to prevent Professor Ross from conducting more research on labor in the UAE or wished to punish him for making the country look bad.
There has been criticism of NYU’s administration for building a campus in the UAE, a country that limits academic freedom and treats laborers poorly. Detractors accuse NYU of responding very meekly to infractions committed by the UAE against NYU professors.
However, supporters of the NYU Abu Dhabi project argue that it has actually improved labor conditions in the UAE by setting them to a higher standard, and that students at the campus are grateful to be there. In addition, they say that NYU has no control over the UAE’s immigration policy and is therefore not to blame when the country denies an NYU Professor entry.