Matthew Hedges: jailed British academic pardoned by UAE

Posted on: 2018-11-26 09:00:00

Matthew Hedges, the 31-year-old British academic jailed for life on spying charges by the United Arab Emirates, has been granted a presidential pardon by the country’s rulers.

His release once formalities are completed follows intense lobbying by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, amid an international outcry that left the UAE scrambling to produce evidence to justify claims that Hedges was a spy.

At a press conference on Monday, the UAE continued to insist Hedges was an MI6 agent, and played video footage showing him apparently confessing that he had been trying to discover military secrets, including about the UAE’s weapons purchases.

The UAE said a “gracious clemency was granted on Sunday in response to a letter from the Hedges family bearing in mind the historic relationship between the UAE and the UK”.

Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, welcomed the statement. “The presidential pardon for Matt is 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. 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.

“Without the involvement of the media, the overwhelming support of academics, the public worldwide, the work of the British diplomatic body in the UAE and Secretary Hunt’s intervention, this would have never happened.”

Hunt said news of Hedges’s pardon was “bittersweet” given that fellow Briton Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains detained in Iran, also accused of spying.

He tweeted: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE govt for resolving issue speedily. But also a bittersweet moment as we remember Nazanin & other innocent ppl detained in Iran. Justice won’t be truly done until they too are safely home.”

The clemency was granted on Sunday by the UAE president, Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, and was one of more than 800 pardons granted by the UAE.

The short video clips shown by the UAE did not provide context but showed Hedges discussing how MI6 operates in the UAE, and apparently confessing to holding the rank of captain in MI6, a position that does not exist. The clips are not being shared by the UAE for wider broadcast.

They also purported to show Hedges confessing to researching the military systems the UAE was purchasing.

The bulk of the press conference was designed to defend the UAE’s judicial system and to justify claims that Hedges was indeed a spy, giving the UAE an opportunity to defend its international reputation.

UAE leaders have been angered at the attacks on its reputation, led by Tejada and backed by Hunt who said he was shocked that Hedges had been jailed at a five-minute hearing last week. The UAE claims the brief hearing was just a formal announcement of the sentence, and not part of the trial itself.

The press conference began with a spokesman detailing the charges against Hedges, the seriousness of the case, and the belief that the UAE was right to have charged him.

He claimed Hedges “had sought information on the ruling families and their networks” and was seeking “to gather classified information on the UAE military and political role in Yemen”.

He said these would be considered serious threats to the national security of any country, and that the information collected went far beyond standard academic practice.

“In fact, Mr Hedges took advantage of the openness granted academic researchers in this country. We are a country that hosts branches of some of the world’s finest academic institutes and we pride ourselves in our contribution to scientific advancement and academic pursuits.”

He said the investigation found Hedges had used two different identities to gather information from his “targets”: a PhD researcher, and a businessman.

“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was a 100% full-time secret service operative.

“Hedges has been found guilty of espionage. He sought out sensitive information. He knew he had access to it. He was here to steal sensitive national security secrets for his paymasters.”

The UAE celebrated its national day on Sunday when traditionally prisoners are granted pardons.

With the UAE being a close trading partner of the UK and its leading political ally in the Gulf, the Hedges case had the potential to cause a major rift between the two countries.

Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic Correspondent
Source: The Guardian

Available on the go

Once you are registered, you can access all of these key benefits straight from your phone. Find us on:

Get it on iTunes Get it on Google Play