Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who have been actively pushing for the release of British academic Matthew Hedges, commented today on the pardon just issued by the UAE government: “We are happy that Matthew Hedges has been released, but let us be clear, the UAE is trying to get themselves off the hook by issuing this pardon; they are asking for clemency, not granting it.
“Matthew should never have been arrested; never should have been forced to sign a false confession in Arabic; never should have been locked up in solitary confinement for six months; never should have been tried for the outlandish charge of espionage; and most certainly never should have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The pardon does not undo any of that, and indeed, Matthew’s innocence has not been admitted by the UAE; the wrongs done to him have not been acknowledged. Obviously we welcome Matthew’s release, but this is far from an optimal resolution.
“By pardoning Matthew, the UAE hopes to salvage its image with a seemingly humane act of clemency. They want this pardon to divert attention from the grave legal misconduct, civil and human rights violations, false prosecution, and flagrant disregard for their relationship with the UK, exposed by this case.
“The British government has been negligent about the real risks posed to UK citizens when they travel to the UAE, and they have been inadequate in their response when Britons subsequently face legal problems in the Emirates. We have pushed the British government to increase its travel warnings about the UAE to, for instance, caution travelers about the severe curtailments of free speech in the country, where someone can be jailed over a tweet, a Facebook post, or even a WhatsApp message to a friend.
“Given what has occurred in Matthew Hedges case, the UK needs to seriously reassess our relationship with the UAE. Should we really be allowing the Emirates to market itself to tourists in Britain, while they are defying a United Nations enquiry into the abduction of several foreign nationals from international waters? The pardon of Matthew Hedges does not resolve the issues that led to his wrongful detention and prosecution, and it should not cause us to be complacent about making a serious re-evaluation of our ties with the UAE.”