LONDON (Middle East Eye) – A British academic who was imprisoned by the United Arab Emirates says plans by the University of Cambridge to accept a multi-million dollar donation from the UAE would be used to “whitewash” the Persian Gulf state’s poor human rights record.
Internal documents seen by The Guardian revealed the UAE has offered Cambridge a donation worth £400m ($550m) - the single biggest donation the university has ever received.
Cambridge University, one of the wealthiest in the world, has not approved the deal, which will span over the course of 10 years.
Matthew Hedges, a PhD student at Durham University, was arrested by the UAE in 2018 when he travelled to Dubai for research purposes.
He fears the partnership could, if approved, be used to bolster the UAE’s reputation. The country already faces criticism for the imprisonment of Emirati academics and human rights activists.
“The problem is not so much that they receive funds from Persian Gulf regimes like the UAE, but rather that the UAE will use Cambridge’s name and an association with them for their own gain, namely whitewashing their terrible human rights record,” Hedges told Middle East Eye.
“There is also no guarantee that academic freedom and independence can be guaranteed when it comes to receiving these kinds of funds, and that does a lot more damage to the university than not receiving the funds in the first place.”
Hedges, who was detained in Abu Dhabi for eight months on spying charges, said it was “unacceptable” that Cambridge is discussing the donation when people still languish in Emirati prisons.
“It is sad and tiring to see that academic institutions are still entertaining the idea of partnering with the UAE, a regime whose human rights abuses are so well-documented that they are impossible to ignore,” said Hedges.
“The Emiratis are especially egregious when it comes to crimes committed towards freedom of expression and speech, a fundamental tenet of academia. Especially given that they imprisoned and tortured me for carrying out academic research, a concept the UAE security forces who detained me could not understand.”