Matthew Hedges: pardoned academic returns to UK

Posted on: 2018-11-27 09:00:00

Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada
 Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada. He spent seven months in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. Photograph: Daniela Tejada/EPA

The British academic Matthew Hedges has returned to the UK, a day after he was pardoned and released in the United Arab Emirates after being sentenced to life in prison for spying.

The UAE released Hedges, 31, on Monday after showing a video of him apparently confessing to being a member of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency. Britain denied he was a spy and welcomed his release.

The move followed 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.

Hedges’ family confirmed that he arrived back into the UK on a flight to Heathrow on Tuesday morning. He was welcomed by his wife, Daniela Tejada, and members of his family.

Hedges praised his “brave and strong” wife and described the experience of being back in the UK as “surreal”.

The academic, who spent seven months in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, added: “I don’t know where to begin with thanking people for securing my release. I have not seen or read much of what has been written over the past few days but Dani tells me the support has been incredible. Thank you so much to the British embassy and the FCO for their efforts in ensuring I arrived safely back home.

“I could not have done this without Daniela. I hear her face is everywhere. She is so brave and strong, seeing her and my family after this ordeal is the best thing that could have happened. I thank you all once again. This is very surreal.”

Meanwhile, Tejada said they were both overwhelmed and thanked “the international community and the international media who were very supportive from the beginning”.

She added: “I am so happy to have my Matt home. Thank you once again for the overwhelming support we have received, especially from the embassy in the UAE and the Foreign Office in ensuring that Matt was safely returned home. We are overjoyed and exhausted.

“I hope you can all understand that Matt and I, as well as his family, really need some time to process everything that we have been through. No one should ever have to go through what he did and it will take him time to heal and recover. He is very overwhelmed. To say we are happy is an understatement.”

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 historical relationship between the UAE and the UK”.

It can now be revealed that UAE claims Hedges’ release could have been secured in the summer but was prolonged partly due to insufficient high-level assurances by the Foreign Office that he was not a spy.

It has been suggested that Boris Johnson, who was foreign secretary until 9 July, was not seen as a reliable pair of hands after he bungled aspects of the Foreign Office efforts to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Tejada has said she was “very cautious” about Johnson and concerned his “flippant comments would hurt Matt’s case”.

One Emirati source said: “This is a very peculiar case that has left scars on both sides. People feel genuinely hurt and do not understand why it was not resolved back in July.”

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 Gulf state.

Nazia Parveen and Patrick Wintour
Source: The Guardian

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