UAE pardons British academic sentenced to life in prison for spying
- Hedges, 31, was sentenced on Thursday after a five-minute hearing. A family spokeswoman said Hedges was forced to sign a confession in Arabic, a language Hedges does not read nor speak.
- His wife, Daniela Tejada, said in a statement that Hedges' pardon was "the best news we could have received
- Despite his release, the UAE continue to assert that Hedges was guilty of espionage.
British academic Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying in the United Arab Emirates, has been pardoned with immediate effect.
Hedges, 31, was sentenced on Thursday after a five-minute hearing. A family spokeswoman said Hedges was forced to sign a confession in Arabic, a language Hedges does not read nor speak.
Hedges is a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Durham. He was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport, following a research trip. He went on to spend almost six months in solitary confinement.
Hedges was granted a presidential pardon following a request for clemency from his family, the UAE government said in a statement. He is one of 785 prisoners being pardoned as part of the UAE’s forthcoming national day celebration on December 2.
Hedges wife, Daniela Tejada, said in a statement that Hedges’ pardon was “the best news we could have received.”
“Our six-plus months of nightmare are finally over and to say we are elated is an understatement,” Tejada said.
“That he is returning home to me and the rest of his family is much more than I was ever expecting to happen this week.”
In statement UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said that Hedges pardon will allow both sides “to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE UK bi-lateral relationship and its importance to the international community.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a tweet that his country was grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue speedily, “although we didn’t agree on the charges.”
Despite his release, the UAE continue to assert that Hedges was guilty of espionage.
Hedges’ pardon came after journalists in Abu Dhabi were shown grainy video of him confessing to being an officer for MI6, Britain’s intelligence agency, and admitting to gathering information on the Emirati military, its key industries and key government figures using his academic credentials as a guise.
“The case against Mr. Hedges was predicated on evidence secured from Mr. Hedges electronic devices; surveillance and intelligence gathering by UAE intelligence and security agencies; and evidence provided by Mr. Hedges himself — including a corroborated account of asset recruitment and training and the confidential information being targeted,” the UAE said in its statement.
“His recruitment and progress within a foreign intelligence service was authenticated to the Court by UAE Intelligence Agencies.”
Ben Bradshaw, the member of Parliament who represents Hedges’ constituency, told CNN last week that the British government and Durham University have assured UAE authorities that Hedges is not a spy.
Bradshaw called Hedges’ release “great news” in a tweet Monday.
“Let’s hope Matt’s home safe & sound with his wife Daniela soon. Thanks to everyone who has worked so hard for his release,” Bradshaw said.
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