Last week, the world watched in horror as Daniela Tejada, 27, pleaded for the Foreign Office to help free her husband, Matthew Hedges, after he was sentenced to life in prison for spying in the United Arab Emirates. He and Daniela have denied the allegations, saying he was in the country to research his PhD, but prosecutors insist Matthew confessed. The sentence was announced after a five-minute hearing where he wasn’t represented by a lawyer. Matthew, 31, a PhD candidate at Durham University, was arrested by UAE officials at Dubai airport in May and held in solitary confinement before being released on bail last month. Daniela accused the Foreign Office of failing her husband by putting UK interests above his right to freedom. But, after a meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt last Thursday, she said she felt reassured Hunt was ‘doing everything in his power to get Matt free’ and just hours ago, the UAE announced his pardon as part of a series of orders on the country's National Day anniversary. She speaks to Grazia...
For a few blissful minutes each night, Matt and I are back together again, living normally. Then I wake up and remember I’m all alone in our bed. The horrific situation we’re in comes flooding back to me; that my husband has been kept in horrific circumstances in solitary confinement and that I have no clue when I’ll see him again or whether he’ll be freed from his life sentence.
I sleep holding on to his sweatshirt, thinking about him in a cell thousands of miles away. I don’t think I’ve had a proper night’s sleep since he was arrested in May. I wake several times a night in despair. It’s the hardest time in my life, but the thought that keeps me going is knowing that, even with the lack of communication, we’re with each other in our minds the whole time.
My coping mechanism is knowing that Matt needs me as much as I need him, and for that reason I just need to battle on. I know I have to put on a brave face, but I am worried for his health. Solitary confinement for six months is a gross mistreatment of a person. He’s been diagnosed with depression and anxiety – naturally his conditions have been extremely exacerbated because of what he’s going through.
When I last saw Matt on the way to court for his sentencing last Wednesday, I could see he was obviously rattled. I asked him what it was that was scaring him the most. He said it was the idea of not knowing when he would next see me. The uncertainty is killing us both and really taking its toll.
I’m trying to focus on happier times to get me through; like remembering the last holiday we took together. It was in Scotland in January for Hogmanay – our first New Year as a married couple. We went hiking in the highlands and climbed Glencoe – I was angry at him because we started the walk so late that it was getting dark by the time we finished and I was freezing and hungry. But the second we got down, I don’t think either of us have ever felt closer to each other than then.
I just hope the UAE find it in their hearts to let him go. The UAE is a special place for us because we have great memories from our time living there –I lived there for a year and a half, and Matt’s lived there on and off since he was a teenager. We met when we were both at Exeter University.
My criticism towards the UK Foreign Office’s involvement was that they took too long to escalate the situation initially. But it’s really promising that they’re doing it so publicly now. I’m clinging on to the hope that they will let him go and this nightmare will end eventually. Until then, Matt and I have to concentrate on our memories and stay confident that we will have a future together.