Matthew Hedges: UAE pardons British academic charged with spying

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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.

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.”

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