A detained British academic is being held after “unusual and embarrassing revelations”, according to the foreign affairs minister in the United Arab Emirates.
Matthew Hedges, 31, was detained in May as he tried to leave Dubai airport following a study trip to the region for his PHD at Durham University.
For much of the five months he has been held in solitary confinement and has been given very few details of what he is alleged to have done.
It has been reported that he is being held on suspicion of involvement in espionage.
Now, foreign minister Anwar Gargash – a leading figure in the UAE government – has said in an update posted to his Twitter account: “Case of Mathew (sic) Hedges extensively discussed with UK colleagues over last 5 months.
“Unusual and embarrassing revelations about friends and allies. With reluctance of UK authorities to address matter thru common channels, due legal process needs to take its course.”
It is unclear what the alleged revelations relate to and Mr Hedges’ wife Daniela is now trying to establish further details though the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The UAE’s pointed criticism of British diplomatic efforts follows assurances from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that he had personally raised the case with his Emirati counterparts.
The intervention from the UAE government comes hours after Mr Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada spoke to Sky News to try and highlight her husband’s plight.
She said: “It is absurd. I think if he was a spy he would be terrible, he would be far too conspicuous.
“He was doing his research, he was very open about what he was doing.”
Mr Hedges’ PhD was in Emirati security policies after the Arab Spring and included work on the Muslim brotherhood.
Ms Tejada acknowledges that his work has the potential to be controversial, especially in the UAE.
She said: “But he is a very knowledgeable person in his field.
“He would never have taken a risk that would have taken him to this extent. He never expected the UAE to adopt this absurd attitude and to think of him as any threat.”
Before he made his research trip, Mr Hedges had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and had been due to start non-medicated treatment on his return to the UK.
Ms Tejada said: “He told me recently that his only method to let go of his nerves is vomiting.
“He has been vomiting every day for the last three months. He has had medical treatment but I do not know to what extent it has been appropriate because he has been prescribed anti-depression, anti-anxiety and sleeping pills.”
The pressure group Detained in Dubai has described the intervention from the UAE foreign minister as a “smear” on Mr Hedges that is “designed to save face”.
Chief executive Radha Stirling told Sky News: “The smear has been a new reaction from the UAE to try to counter negative press they receive from foreign countries.
“They started using this tactic for the first time last year. It is their attempt to save face.”
She is also calling on other academic institutions to follow Durham University’s lead and temporarily stop academics visiting the UAE until Mr Hedges’ case is clarified.
Ms Stirling added: “There needs to be an urgent re-think. Researchers, academics, writers, human rights lawyers and activists cannot feel secure visiting the country.”
Mr Hedges is due to have a court hearing about his case on 24 October.
The FCO has been asked for comment.