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Matthew Hedges: British academic freed from UAE concerned for detained UK football fan | World News

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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.

Ali Issa Ahmad was arrested on 22 January in the UAE
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Ali Issa Ahmad was arrested on 22 January in the UAE

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.

Mr Ahmad had gone to see the Asian Cup quarter final between Qatar and Iraq
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Mr Ahmad had gone to see the Asian Cup quarter final between Qatar and Iraq

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.

Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada
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Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada

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.”

Mr Hedge's wife, Daniela Tejeda, fought to get her husband released
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Daniela Tejeda fought to get her husband released

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.

Matthew Hedges was jailed by the UAE on spying charges while researching for his PhD
Image:
Matthew Hedges was jailed by the UAE on spying charges while researching for his PhD

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.”

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Running battles on Venezuela border as aid trucks from Colombia set alight | World News

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Battles between protesters and Venezuela’s national guard are taking place on the border with Colombia as trucks try to deliver tonnes of emergency aid.

People scrambled to save boxes of food and medicine from burning vehicles, with claims national guardsmen set them alight as they crossed into Venezuela.

Smoke billowed from barricades, built to stop the aid getting in, and demonstrators threw rocks at heavily-armed police.

Tear gas was fired at people trying to clear the blockade to the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge – in the Venezuelan border town of Urena.

Two protesters have also been killed and 18 injured in Santa Elena de Uairen, near the border with Brazil, according to a doctor at the scene.

Smoke billowed from the trucks set alight on the bridge
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Smoke billowed from the trucks set alight on the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge
One of the aid trucks was set alight - reportedly by National Guardsmen
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The trucks were said to have been set alight by National Guardsmen
People rushed to get the aid off the burning truck on the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge
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People rushed to get the aid off the burning trucks

The clashes come after opposition leader Juan Guaido vowed to bring humanitarian aid from Colombia.

Nearly 200 tonnes of aid in a convoy of trucks has been waiting to cross several border bridges.

Mr Guaido says the supplies are vital to help people left in a dire situation by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.



A man faces off against police at the Simon Bolivar bridge in Cucuta, Colombia







‘We’ve got to do it today’ – Sky’s Cordelia Lynch meets protesters in Cucuta

A demonstrator kicks a burning tyre in Urena
Image:
A demonstrator kicks a burning tyre in Urena

Venezuelan officials have closed the border with Colombia, Brazil and the island of Curacao and have been cracking down on those trying to keep them open.

President Maduro said he had cut all diplomatic relations with Colombia’s “fascist government” and was expelling its diplomats in response to its support for Mr Guaido.

“Patience is exhausted, I can’t bare it anymore, we can’t keep putting up with Colombian territory being used for attacks
against Venezuela,” Mr Maduro told supporters in Venezuelan capital Caracas.

Opponents claim he presided over a fraudulent election and has let the economy go to ruins with rampant inflation and people struggling to get food and medicine.

Venezuelan national guards clash with demonstrators in Urena
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Venezuelan national guards clash with demonstrators in Urena
Venezuelans clash with national guards in the border town of Urena
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A protester kicks over one of the barricades

Most of the aid at the Columbia border has been provided by the US which has recognised Mr Guaido as the interim president, despite Mr Maduro refusing to stand down.

Venezuelan authorities regard the plan to bring in aid as a veiled US-backed invasion.

Tensions first flared at dawn, when residents in Urena began removing yellow metal barricades and barbed wire blocking the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge.

A woman throws an object at police in Urena
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A woman throws an object at police in Urena
A protester is hit in the face by barbed wire during battles with guards in Urena
Image:
A protester is hit in the face by barbed wire during battles with guards in Urena

At another border crossing, the Simon Bolivar bridge, about 10 miles (15km) south, Colombian migration authorities said four National Guardsmen had deserted their posts and asked for help.

Pictures showed young men struggling to get through a crowd, holding their assault rifles and pistols above their heads in a sign of surrender.

They were then ordered to lay on the ground as migration officials held back onlookers.

The moment two Venezuelan guards hand themselves to the Colombian authorities
Image:
The moment two Venezuelan guards hand themselves to the Colombian authorities

Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president under the constitution on 23 January.

He has been backed by dozens of countries, including the UK.

On Friday, he attended a concert staged by Sir Richard Branson, in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border, opposite Urena.

A woman lies injured amid tensions at the Simon Bolivar bridge on the border of Colombia and Venezuela
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A woman lies injured amid tensions at the Simon Bolivar bridge

Mr Guaido met Colombian president Ivan Duque at the Live Aid-style event, despite Mr Maduro forbidding him from leaving the country.

Sky’s Cordelia Lynch, who is in Venezuela, said hundreds of people at the concert were planning to join the battle to get the trucks across the border.

She said Mr Guaido had been talking to the authorities to get permission to bring across 14 trucks, each laden with about 20 tonnes of aid in a shipping container.

Juan Guaido at the Venezeula border with Colombia
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Juan Guaido at the Venezeula border with Colombia
Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a counter protest in Caracas
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Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a counter protest in Caracas

Protests also took place on Saturday in Curacao and in the capital Caracas – where a protest was held by President Maduro’s supporters.

Mr Maduro told the crowds he was ready to defend Venezuela’s independence with his life if necessary.

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Harry and Meghan given guard of honour as they arrive in Morocco | UK News

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been greeted by a guard of honour as they arrived in Morocco for a three-day tour.

After a 90-minute delay, Harry and Meghan flew into Casablanca, famous for the romantic Hollywood film.

But this is a business trip for the royal couple, and their second major overseas tour, as they visit Morocco on behalf of the government and the Foreign Office.

With Meghan’s baby due in April or May, the Palace confirmed that medical provisions had been made. It is not unusual for doctors to travel as part of the royal party, although officials did not go into detail.

The couple are staying privately as guests of the king of Morocco in a royal residence.

They will use the visit to highlight their interest in issues around female empowerment, inclusivity, education for women and girls, and encouraging young entrepreneurs.

The duchess is due to give birth in April or May
Image:
The duchess is due to give birth in April or May
A guard of honour welcomed Harry and Meghan at the airport
Image:
A guard of honour welcomed Harry and Meghan at the airport

Morocco is seen as a key focus for UK foreign policy, as a gateway to Africa.

Speaking ahead of the visit, ambassador to Morocco Thomas Reilly said: “It is hugely exciting to have The Duke and Duchess of Sussex here for the next few days, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to showcase the vital roles that girls’ education and youth empowerment are playing in shaping modern Morocco.

“When we began planning for this visit, I had a very clear view in my mind of the story we wanted this visit to tell.

“It is the same story that we have been telling consistently at this embassy about Morocco since my arrival here 20 months ago, and in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, we have found that this story fits with interests close to their hearts.”

THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF SUSSEX ARRIVE IN MOROCCO
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Harry and Meghan are staying as guests of the king

In the medina in Rabat, Sky News met 18-year-old Loubna Ouraich.

She is from a Berber family that live in a village near the Atlas Mountains. Her father is a teacher and encouraged her and her sisters to study.

She is the first woman in her family to go to university and is studying French literature in Rabat.

She told Sky News she admires what Meghan stands for: “I saw some pictures of her in all the world, doing a lot of things, a lot of beautiful things for humanity, humans, helping poor people and that was so great.

“And when I see her I just remember the Princess Diana, she’s wonderful.”

It comes at the end of a busy few days for the duchess who spent most of last week in New York with her friends, who put on an opulent baby shower.

The Duchess of Sussex is spending five days in New York on a low-key visit
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The baby shower in New York attracted a lot of media attention
American photographers could not believe their luck
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Meghan’s stay in the Big Apple came in for some criticism

However, the private baby shower became a very public event with journalists tipped off about the event.

Her friends reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to spoil Meghan and cover the cost of penthouse suites and private jets.

The cost and the way it was managed has come in for some criticism.

Arthur Edwards, royal photographer for The Sun, said: “I remember going to New York with Princess Diana, and she used to stay at the Carlisle, very sort of small hotel, but beautifully smart.

“And there used to be about four of us waiting outside for her to come and go, you know completely different, and she’d come out and give us a smile and get into the car – but I mean Meghan it was a massive showbiz event.

“She’s become America’s Diana, she’s so massive now.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will fly into the Atlas Mountains on Sunday to carry out engagements in Asni town where they will visit the Education For All boarding house that houses girls aged 12 to 18 to make sure girls in rural communities get access to secondary education.

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Gunfire and explosions at start of Nigeria’s presidential election | World News

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Nigeria’s delayed election began with gunfire and explosions as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term.

Delays at polling stations across the West Africa country have also marred the election which is widely seen as too close to call.

Police say they carried out the blasts in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, just before polls opened in a show of force to deter Islamic extremists who have been a scourge in the north east.

Security sources said a rocket hit a displaced persons’ camp, while an explosion at an army garrison killed one soldier and injured four others.

It was also confirmed by the army that a “futile” attack on a security outpost in Geidam in Yobe state had been carried out.

President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote
Image:
President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote

Gunfire was also heard in Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s restive south where the presence of the army was heavier than in previous elections.

:: Your guide to the Nigerian election

A military convoy in Delta state contained more than 25 vehicles full of soldiers on standby.

Soldiers in Rivers state fired on suspected ballot snatchers and arrested four people.

Mr Buhari refused to answer questions on whether he would accept a loss to top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.

Opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar casts his vote at Ajiya's polling station in Yola, Adamawa State
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Opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar pictured voting

As he went out to vote in his northern hometown of Daura, the president jokingly checked the name on his wife’s ballot.

Nigerians “are behaving themselves”, the president said.

After voting in his hometown of Yola in the north east, Mr Abubakar said: “I look forward to a successful transition”.

He previously pledged to accept the results provided they are credible.

The election is widely seen as too close to call
Image:
The election is widely seen as too close to call

Mr Buhari said the voting process had been smooth but a coalition of civic groups said many polling stations had not opened more than four hours after voting was due to officially start.

Delays were reported in Delta, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states as well as in Nigeria’s largest city Lagos.

Observers say preliminary results of the election are expected within two to four days.

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