A British academic who endured solitary confinement in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has told Sky News he is concerned about a British football fan detained in the Gulf State.
Matthew Hedges was speaking out more than two and a half weeks after Ali Issa Ahmad, 26, was arrested while on holiday in the country from his home in Wolverhampton.
“I am [concerned] because it shows there is a manipulation of the law to suit political means, to make the point and say ‘we don’t like this type of behaviour so we are going to do as we will’,” Mr Hedges, 31, said.
Mr Ahmad, a dual British-Sudanese national, 26, was arrested in Sharjah emirate on 22 January, reportedly for wearing a Qatar shirt to a football match – considered an offence in the UAE.
The Gulf state denies this was the case.
Its embassy in London says he turned up at a police station falsely claiming to have been beaten up for wearing the shirt when actually he inflicted the injuries on himself
It says he has admitted to making false statements and wasting police time.
It is understood that Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, is closely following Mr Ahmad’s case.
Mr Hedges, however, says he has little faith in the UAE’s justice system.
It is a view shared by his Colombian wife, Daniela Tejeda, 27, who fought a hugely successful public campaign to help secure her husband’s release.
“A confession should not be the sole determinant to a case being opened let alone to someone being sentenced,” she said, sitting with Mr Hedges on a park bench in London.
“We don’t know what conditions he (Mr Ahmad) is being kept in or what he is being told in order to confess so unless there is hard evidence there is absolutely no reason why he should be held.”
Mr Hedges, who is working on his PhD at Durham University, says he was forced while detained in the UAE to confess falsely to being an MI6 officer or face torture.
His ordeal only ended in November when he was pardoned after diplomatic pressure from the foreign secretary.
But Mr Hedges and his wife want to know if a desire to keep good relations with the UAE stopped Britain from acting faster to help him.
They would like the foreign office to conduct an internal review in its handling of the case.
“The question I would ask is: Are there any other vested interests here which may have slowed this process down or deliberately inhibited it?” he asked.
Mr Hedges continued: “This is something that we are trying to look into more. We have requested an FOI [freedom of information request] for information regarding my case.”
He thinks the UK may have had to do a similar kind of diplomatic balancing act with him and the UAE as it did when handling its close relationship with Saudi Arabia at the same time as responding to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The idea of the UAE or wider Gulf influence in the UK decision making structure I think is very unhealthy,” Mr Hedges said.
“We have a certain set of values and standards we like to try and live by and we should continue to do this without interruption.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman highlighted the “extensive support” staff provided in Mr Hedges’s case, including from Mr Hunt.
Mr Hedges says he is working with the government to get his spy conviction quashed as it taints his reputation and makes it difficult to travel.
“It sounds good if you are going to go down the pub or something but the reality is a lot stronger, has quite a harsh meaning,” he said.
“It means part of my integrity is always questioned, it means my academic research will always be questioned.”
The conviction of an innocent man for spying is also a sign that anyone could encounter the same problem should they travel to the UAE, he added.
As for foreign travel, much of the world is now out of bounds.
“You have to say ‘what type of countries would be very interested in a convicted British spy’?
“Middle East, North Africa, Russia and former Soviet states, China – any authoritarian state in the world that can act with impunity, that acts without a legal justice and that acts arbitrarily.
“It is something we have to take even more seriously now with our own personal safety.”
Flooding and mudslides kill at least 60 people in South Africa | World News
Flooding and mudslides have killed at least 60 people on South Africa’s eastern coast, officials have said.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province, where many homes collapsed, and at least three people died in neighbouring Eastern Cape.
Rescuers were digging through the collapsed buildings on Wednesday after days of heavy rain hit areas around the port city of Durban.
More than 1,000 people have also fled their homes.
The extent of the rain late on Monday was unexpected, said Lennox Mabaso from the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department.
He said some people had been swept away by floodwater, adding: “There was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people.”
Victor da Silva, from the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to get out before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
He said: “On Monday, the water was just crazy.
“And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining.
“And then an hour-and-a-half later, everything [vanished] because the rain just hasn’t stopped.”
The deaths come a week after 13 people died when a wall at a church in KwaZulu-Natal collapsed after heavy rain.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the province on Wednesday and is expected to visit the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” said Mr Ramaphosa.
Facebook warns of $5bn hit as US investigates how it handles user data | Business News
Facebook has warned it could face a hit of up to $5bn (£3.88bn) as a result of an investigation by US regulators into its handling of user data.
The social media giant, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, disclosed the estimated cost of the investigation into it by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as it published first-quarter financial results.
Facebook reported a 26% rise in revenues to $15.1bn (£11.7bn) – beating analysts’ targets – and estimated that more than 2.1 billion people on average now use its “family” of services every day.
But profits fell by 51% compared with the same period last year to $2.43bn (£1.88bn) as it set aside $3bn (£2.33bn) to cover the FTC inquiry into its “platform and user data practices”.
The FTC has been investigating revelations that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million of its users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
The probe has focused on whether the sharing of the data with the British firm, and other privacy disputes, violated a 2011 agreement with the regulator to safeguard users’ privacy.
The FTC is yet to announce any findings.
Facebook said it estimated the range of loss it faced as a result of the investigation was between $3bn and $5bn.
The company added: “The matter remains unresolved and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.”
Investors shrugged off the disclosure, sending shares 5% higher in after-hours trading as they focused on Facebook’s buoyant revenues – boosted by the success of its Instagram platform and surging ad income.
Facebook also reported an 80% rise in costs to $11.8bn (£9.15bn) as it ramped up spending to improve content and security across its platforms.
The company’s number of employees stood at nearly 38,000 at the end of last month, up 36% on last year.
It added that its measure of monthly active users rose by 8% to 2.38 billion as of 31 March, while daily active users rose 8% to 1.56 billion on average for March.
Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said: “We had a good quarter and our business and community continue to grow.
“We are focused on building out our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking, and working collaboratively to address important issues around the internet.”
Three-year-old migrant boy found alone and in tears near US border | US News
A three-year-old migrant boy was found wandering alone in a Texas cornfield near the US-Mexico border.
The boy, in tears, was discovered in the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville by US Border Patrol agents on Tuesday morning.
Officials said his name and a telephone number were written on his shoes.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tweeted: “We believe the boy was with a larger group that ran when they encountered agents.”
The boy has been taken to a nearby border station while officials try to trace his family.
It came as Donald Trump renewed his threat on Wednesday to send more troops to the US-Mexico border after an incident in which Mexican soldiers confronted US personnel.
Mexico blamed the incident on confusion, and said it was not looking for confrontation with the US.
In tweets on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump said: “Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers.”
He said it was probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the border.
The president added: “Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!”
US Border Patrol agents have been struggling to cope with the rising number of families trying to reach the US from Central America.
Between January and the end of March this year, 207,475 people have been detained on the southwest US border, according to US Border Patrol figures.
Mr Trump made migration a key part of his presidential campaign as he said criminals and drug dealers from Mexico were swamping the US.
The president had promised to build a wall to stop the flow of migrants – but last year, Congress refused to give him the $5.7bn (£4.5bn) needed to construct it, leading to a government shutdown.
In February, he declared a national emergency so he could get round Congress and divert funds from the military to the wall.
In March, army engineers received permission to start planning and building 57 miles of 18ft-high fencing along the border.
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