HOME FREE Jailed PhD student Matthew Hedges boards plane home to the UK after ‘spy’ pardon in UAE

Matthew was sentenced to life last week, sparking a diplomatic row and the intervention of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

27 November 2018 - 09:27

A BRIT academic jailed in Abu Dhabi for "spying" was on his way home on Tuesday after a pardon saved him from a life sentence.

Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life last week, sparking a diplomatic row and the intervention of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hedges boarded a flight to London in Dubai, according to a Reuters photographer at the airport.

His wife Daniela Tejada thanked the UAE for its "compassion" and added: "We were just starting or lives, so I'm thankful this opportunity has been given back to us."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the pardon, which he called "fantastic news".

But officials last night persisted in calling him an MI6 spy.

An official told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Mr Hedges was "100 per cent a full-time secret service operative" who was in the country "to steal the UAE's sensitive security national secrets for his paymasters".

It comes after United Arab Emirates authorities showed journalists a video purporting to show the 31-year-old confessing as evidence against him.

The clip, which officials did not allow journalists to record, shows Mr Hedges describing himself as a captain in MI6 during what appears to be a court hearing.

Another clip appears to show him speaking to someone in an office and saying: "It helps the research to go in in an easy way." Then, Hedges is seen snapping his fingers and adds: "Then it becomes MI6."

Mr Hedges, a doctoral student at Durham University, was sentenced last week in a move described as deeply disappointing by PM Theresa May.

He was arrested on May 5 after a two-week research visit to interview sources on its foreign policy as part of research for his PhD thesis.

After being taken into custody at Dubai Airport, he was moved to the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi.

He was left in solitary confinement for five months after the initial accusations.

The UAE's attorney general later said Hedges was charged with spying for a foreign state, without naming it, and jeopardising the military, economic and political security of the country.

His court sentencing last week lasted less than five minutes and he had no lawyer present.

Today Mrs Tejada said she "cannot wait to have Matt back home", while sources said he could be on a flight back as soon as today.

She added: "The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could’ve received.

"Thank you friends, family, media, academics, and the wider public for your undivided support - I’ve been brought back to life."

And Mr Hunt said on Twitter: "Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges.

"Although we didn't agree with charges we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.

"But also a bittersweet moment as we remember Nazanin & other innocent people detained in Iran.

"Justice won't be truly done until they too are safely home."

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said: "This is a huge relief and goes some way to righting a wrong after Matthew’s grossly unfair trial.

"Now Matthew needs to be speedily released and allowed to return to the UK.

"Matthew should never have been jailed after such an unfair process.

"And he should never have been held in the miserable conditions of solitary confinement. A pardon doesn’t make up for this injustice."

Emrati officials said UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the clemency for Hedges on Sunday along with with hundreds of others, and he will be allowed out of the country once procedures securing his release are complete.

UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the pardon would allow the UAE and UK to "return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE-UK bilateral relationship", the WAM Emirates news agency reported.

Dr Gargash said: "His highness the president's gracious clemency in the customary National Day pardons allows us to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE-UK bilateral relationship and its importance to the international community.

"It was always a UAE hope that this matter would be resolved through the common channels of our longstanding partnership.

"This was a straightforward matter that became unnecessarily complex despite the UAE's best efforts."

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