Matthew Hedges: UAE pardons British academic charged with spying

British academic Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying in the United Arab Emirates,...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 3:56 PM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 3:56 PM

British academic Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying in the United Arab Emirates, has been pardoned with immediate effect.

He was released from prison Monday and will leave the country later in the day, a UAE official told CNN.

Amnesty and pardons

Continents and regions

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Criminal law

Law and legal system

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

United Arab Emirates

Espionage

Europe

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government departments and authorities

Intelligence services

International relations and national security

National security

Northern Europe

United Kingdom

Abu Dhabi

Corrections system

Prisons and jails

Sentencing

International relations

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.

Before announcing his pardon, authorities in Abu Dhabi showed journalists video that purportedly showed Hedges confessing to being a spy, though it's unclear if the statement was made under duress.

Hedges, a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Durham, was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport, following a research trip. He went on to spend almost six months in solitary confinement.

Despite issuing Hedges' pardon, the Emiratis continue to allege that he was a spy recruited by British intelligence due to his network of sources inside the country.

The UAE claimed that Hedges used his academic work as a cover to enter the country for espionage, a claim British authorities have denied.

The 31-year-old was granted a presidential pardon following a request for clemency from his family and in consideration of "the historical relationship and close ties between the UAE and the UK," Jaber al-Lamki of the UAE National Media Council said Monday.

He is one of 785 prisoners being pardoned as part of the UAE's forthcoming national day celebration on December 2.

The British national will be allowed to leave the country as soon as the paperwork regarding his pardon is processed, officials said.

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."

UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said in a statement 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."

UK 'deeply perplexed' how this happened

Hedges' imprisonment had taken a toll on London's relationship with Abu Dhabi. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously called the case "unacceptable" and warned of "serious diplomatic consequences."

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, said Monday that the government "welcomed" Hedges' pardon although "we didn't agree with the charges."

"But we are grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue," the spokesman added.

Hunt told reporters on Monday that Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed and its foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed recognized "the importance of the strategic relationship between the UK and the UAE" and worked "very, very hard to try and resolve this situation."

However, Hunt added: "But, the truth is that we should have never have got to here and we are deeply perplexed as to how it happened."

The foreign secretary reiterated that the UK had not seen any evidence to support the spy accusations against Hedges.

Detained in Dubai -- a UK-based legal advice group -- said that while it was good news that Hedges has been released, it was "far from an optimal resolution."

Chief Executive Radha Stirling said in a statement: "Matthew should never have been arrested; never should have been forced to sign a false confession in Arabic; never should have been locked up in solitary confinement for six months ... and most certainly never should have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

"The pardon does not undo any of that, and indeed, Matthew's innocence has not been admitted by the UAE; the wrongs done to him have not been acknowledged," she added.

UAE continues to allege that Hedges was a spy

Despite his release, the UAE continues to assert that Hedges was guilty of espionage. The Emiratis said the five-minute hearing was a sentencing hearing, and that Hedges had three separate hearings prior to that.

Hedges' pardon came after reporters 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.

One piece of evidence used in court was a video in which Hedges was asked his rank in MI6. He replies "captain," despite the fact that there is no such thing as a captain -- or any military rank -- in MI6.

In another video, Hedges is seen in an interrogation room with two Emirati officials. In English he said he was an MI6 analyst, not a field officer in charge of recruiting spies, but then later went on to say he was in fact trying to develop assets in the Middle Eastern nation using his PhD research as a cover.

"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.

Al-Lamki told reporters that a government investigation revealed that Hedges had previously worked in the UAE for the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, (INEGMA), a strategy and security consultancy. UAE authorities allege that British intelligence recruited Hedges due to the network he cultivated while working for INEGMA.

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.

The UAE also denied allegations that Hedges was mistreated in custody.

Al-Lamki told reporters Hedges was "accorded his full rights as a defendant" and provided a doctor twice a week, a translator and a defense lawyer paid for at the government's expense.

Huntsville
Overcast
58° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 58°
Florence
Overcast
58° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 58°
Fayetteville
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 57°
Decatur
Overcast
58° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 58°
Scottsboro
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 63°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 247587

Reported Deaths: 3131
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby36376562
Davidson31748337
Knox1273889
Rutherford11893114
Hamilton11758109
Williamson710256
Sumner6114110
Wilson469059
Putnam444056
Montgomery421756
Out of TN407935
Madison378079
Sullivan376346
Bradley358723
Washington347651
Sevier335122
Blount334336
Maury330737
Robertson261441
Hamblen246448
Tipton236723
Dyer223732
Unassigned22063
Gibson216244
Hardeman189833
Coffee189425
Obion178822
Trousdale17758
Greene175052
Bedford170920
Fayette169225
Dickson169119
Anderson168814
McMinn164036
Loudon162311
Lawrence161820
Cumberland161025
Wayne16007
Weakley156126
Carter155633
Jefferson155521
Monroe146228
Warren143910
Lauderdale143617
Henderson141626
Hardin139720
Macon134325
Roane13027
Franklin129519
Haywood129527
Overton122717
Hawkins120925
White118814
Johnson11507
Carroll114826
Marshall113810
McNairy112927
Rhea111118
Cheatham106011
Cocke105814
Campbell103012
Bledsoe10174
Smith99113
Lake9853
Giles96936
Fentress91611
Lincoln8973
Crockett86820
Hickman80315
Henry79611
Marion7739
Chester73214
DeKalb73217
Decatur66311
Grainger6114
Grundy57011
Union5433
Claiborne5266
Polk51113
Jackson4525
Humphreys4504
Morgan4437
Houston42017
Benton4199
Unicoi4183
Cannon4152
Clay40613
Lewis4033
Scott3845
Sequatchie3462
Stewart33111
Meigs3276
Perry3082
Pickett2747
Moore2692
Van Buren2071
Hancock1193

Community Events