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.”
New York City vows to end hairstyle discrimination after ‘racist stereotypes’ | US News
New guidelines have been introduced in New York City to stop hairstyle discrimination.
Employers have been warned they could face legal action for banning styles associated with black people, such as afros, dreadlocks or corn rows, or for instructing black workers to straighten their hair.
Numerous schools until now have banned dreadlocks, afros and other hairstyles.
The legal guidance says existing human rights law protects New Yorkers’ right to “maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic or cultural identities”.
Although the protections apply to everyone, they were prompted mainly by “racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional”, the NYC Commission on Human Rights said.
The commission’s chairwoman Carmelyn P Malalis tweeted after releasing the guidelines: “Hair is a part of you. Race discrimination based on hair is illegal in NYC.”
The guidance in effect enables people to take companies and organisations to court if they have been harassed or punished in workplaces, schools or public spaces because of their hair texture or style.
However, hair nets and bands can still be required for health and safety reasons.
In December, a white referee sparked uproar when he told a black New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a match or forfeit it.
Although the teenager had his hair cut, many criticised the demand, including the state’s governor and an Olympic wrestler.
Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a discrimination case involving a black Alabama woman who said she was sacked from her job because she refused to cut her dreadlocks.
An appeal found in favour of the employer and said federal law protects people from discrimination based on “immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices”.
New York City’s human rights law is distinct from federal anti-discrimination law.
Ms Malalis said: “There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people.”
Scraping for food to survive: Inside the frontline of Yemen’s devastating civil war | World News
Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to withdraw their forces from Hodeidah – providing fresh hope for the fragile ceasefire in the city.
No timeline has been announced for the withdrawal – it was originally scheduled for last month.
But Sky News has been told by forces who are reporting daily violations that the ceasefire agreement could collapse at any time.
An agreement was reached between Yemen’s UN-recognised government and their rivals – the Houthis – at the end of last year.
And amid this grinding war a desperate population struggling to survive is scraping in the dirt for whatever handouts they can get.
Sky News gained rare access to Hodeidah by travelling along Yemen’s west coast.
We were taken to the Red Sea Flour Mills on the edge of the city.
The front line position is now controlled by the coalition – inside the stores the grain is spoiling in the heat.
Aid agencies say although the fighting has paused they can’t cross the front lines to access the supplies.
Under the agreement of the new talks this should change and access should be allowed but confidence and trust between the two sides remains low.
The UN says the grain is enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month – vital food in a country where 10 million people are on the brink of famine.
Emirati forces claim it is the Houthis, who are less than a kilometre away, who are blocking distribution.
They have been accused of shelling the grain silos so that one was set alight and is still burning several weeks later.
The Houthis have meanwhile accused the coalition of violating the agreement.
The break in the fighting between the Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-led coalition is the only flicker of hope for Yemen.
It is place where light no longer shines – famine and starvation stalk the population.
At a field hospital near Hodeidah the medical staff are barely coping – the place is full of sick and hungry children.
Some 13 days after she was admitted, Bashira is still struggling to breathe.
The one-year-old’s tiny lungs are weak from lack of food.
Dr Faris Ali Abdu Shami says she’s one of the lucky ones.
“The situation is so bad. And there is not enough support like drugs, food, milk that children like her need,” he says.
I ask him what happens to children like Bashira who don’t get help.
“They will die,” he replies.
The war erupted out of an Arab Spring uprising.
But the conflict cannot be resolved through military might – the coalition believes controlling the main commercial port will clinch victory and restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government.
The path to a political settlement will not be easy – the roads are littered with IEDs and landmines.
Emirati forces are clearing and destroying them every day but even if the latest talks are successful the risk of further violence is great.
We were shown 1,200 anti-tank mines and 396 IEDs collected from various locations along the west coast of Yemen.
They were taken to the town of Mocha and destroyed.
But for now the stalemate remains and it is delicate.
Both sides have agreed to withdrawal measures but because the issue is so sensitive no timeline has been agreed.
If the negotiations fail, the lull in the fighting may not last much longer and the disaster of a full-scale offensive on Hodeidah may become reality.
The UK welcomed the agreement but urged all sides in the conflict to continue working together.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “The UK welcomes progress made on agreeing redeployment of troops from Hodeidah by the government of Yemen and the Houthis this weekend.
“This encouraging progress represents a significant step forward in the political process. But more careful work remains to be done.
“The UK urges all parties to continue to work with the UN Special Envoy to rapidly finalise and implement the agreed plan.
“As the foreign secretary re-emphasised alongside UAE, US and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers at the Yemen Quad in Warsaw, a political settlement remains the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis.
“The Yemeni parties must engage constructively and in good faith to overcome obstacles and find a political solution to end the conflict.”
Kashmir: India-Pakistan tensions flare as more soldiers are killed in gun battle | World News
Tensions in the disputed Kashmir region have escalated further after four Indian soldiers, three suspected militants, a police official and a civilian were killed during a gun battle.
The nine deaths come after a local Kashmiri militant rammed a van fitted with explosives into a paramilitary bus on Thursday, killing at least 40 soldiers.
The suicide bombing was the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir’s history.
Security officials said the latest fighting broke out after government forces surrounded a village in the region of southern Pulwama, following a tip-off that militants were hiding out there.
Monday’s violence saw a senior police officer, an army officer and another three soldiers wounded.
Police said troops had come under heavy gunfire as they started conducting searches.
Residents reported troops destroying one house with explosives during the stand-off.
The bodies of two militants were recovered from the debris and a civilian was killed in the crossfire, according to police.
Among the soldiers killed in the gun battle was an Indian army major. One of the wounded soldiers is reportedly in a critical condition.
Anti-India protests and clashes followed the fighting, with residents – mainly young people – trying to march to the site of the stand-off in solidarity with the rebels.
Government troops fired tear gas at the protesters, who were reportedly throwing stones.
India has blamed Pakistan over Thursday’s suicide bombing as tensions continue to grow between the neighbouring nations.
New Delhi has promised a “jaw-breaking response” to the attack.
However, Pakistan has warned India not to link it with the bombing without an investigation and said it was part of New Delhi’s “known rhetoric and tactics” to divert attention from human rights violations in Kashmir.
Both India and Pakistan administer part of Kashmir but both sides claim the entire region belongs to them.
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