The British academic jailed in the UAE for alleged spying faces a rigged justice system which gives accused no opportunity to defend themselves, it was claimed today.

A US citizen prosecuted by the Gulf state authorities and held in similar conditions to Matthew Hedges has said he will have been subjected to an arbitrary criminal justice system which is weighed against the accused.

Shezanne Cassim, who was jailed for nine months by the UAE for posting a satirical video on Youtube which parodied teenagers in Dubai, said: “The feelings of terror and utter helplessness are constant because there’s no room in the UAE justice system to defend yourself — due process simply does not exist there.”

The family of Mr Hedges are pinning their hopes of his release on their plea to the authorities for clemency to be shown in his case.

A petition calling on the UAE’s rulers to free Mr Hedges has already drawn nearly a quarter of a million signatures. At the same time anger at his treatment  has led to a growing backlash among academic institutions in the UK.

Durham University yesterday became the latest to join a growing boycott when it suspended all field research in the UAE, while lecturers at the University of Exeter, where Mr Hedges did his master’s degree, have called on the vice-chancellor to suspend all business partnerships with the Gulf state.  

Mr Hedges, 31, was arrested in May at Dubai Airport , having spent two weeks in the UAE carrying out research for his PhD on security in the region.

He spent six months in solitary confinement before being found guilty at what his wife Daniela Tejada said was a five minute hearing with no lawyer present.

Mr Cassim, 33, told The Sunday Telegraph that chimed with his own experience of the UAE’s justice system.

Shezanne Cassim, who was jailed in UAE

He said: “Anyone who has been through their system knows the UAE doesn’t bother with the semblance of fairness.”

Mr Cassim said hearing what had happened to Mr Hedges had revived the feelings of anguish he felt on being arrested in five years ago.

In what is the first, disturbing nsight into the conditions faced by Mr Hedges, Mr Cassim said he had been treated as if he was part of a foreign conspiracy posing a threat to national security.

He said: “Despite repeated attempts, my family and the US consulate were given no explanation for my detention, and I was held without bail since no charges had been filed.

“I was stuck in my cell 23 hours a day – reading materials were largely prohibited, so I spent most days lying in bed. I was allowed two five-minute phone calls each week, and family visits on Fridays and Saturdays.”

He added: “It was seven months before my case was heard in court. I had no idea what the judge was saying; I was simply told when to stand up and sit down. My lawyer wasn’t allowed to present a defense.”

Mr Cassim, who spent his childhood in Dubai and returned to work there after graduating, was first detained in April 2013. He said court documents obtained after his release in January 2014, with credit for time served and time off for good behaviour, showed he was convicted solely on the basis of a false confession he was told to sign the night he was arrested.

Mr Hedges’s family say he too was made to sign a document in Arabic he did not understand after being  detained on May 5 at Dubai airport as he was leaving the country.

Ms Tejada says she hopes that following her plea for clemency he will be released this week, ahead of a weekend of celebrations for the country’s national day.

Daniela Tejada, wife of detained British academic Matthew Hedges, Credit:
Ben Stansall/AFP

She said: “We have made a plea for mercy. To be honest I don’t want to raise expectations. I just want his release. I have had my hopes dashed on so many previous occasions that I really don’t want to get too hopeful now. It will be devastating if he isn’t given clemency.”

Mr Cassim, who is now studying business at Duke University, North Carolina, described the conditions in which Mr Hedges is likely to be held as appalling, with more than 100 inmates forced to share poor hygiene facilities and being given poor quality food to eat.

The detention of Mr Hedges has renewed focus on the links between the UAE and British business, particularly the ownership of Manchester City FC by the kingdom’s deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Kristian Ulrichsen, a friend of Mr Hedges, Middle East expert and fellow at Seattle’s Rice University’s Baker Institute, has called for more to be done to persuade the club to distance itself from the behaviour of the UAE’s rulers, including protests by fans.

Campaigners have also criticised the sale of British arms to the UAE  in light of its record on human rights.

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