In Depth

Matthew Hedges pardoned: how the UAE ‘spying’ case unfolded

Durham University PhD student was detained during research trip for thesis

A British academic who was sentenced to life in prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on spying charges last week has been granted a presidential pardon by the country’s rulers.

The imminent release of Matthew Hedges, 31, follows an international outcry and intense lobbying by the British government.

Hedges had visited the country earlier this year to research his PhD thesis on civil-military relations in the wake of the Arab Spring. He was detained at Dubai Airport on 5 May as he prepared to fly home, and accused of using his research as a “cover” for carrying out surveillance for a “foreign agency”.

So how did the case unfold?

Who is Hedges?

A specialist in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, Hedges is understood to have been researching security apparatus in the Arab world following the uprisings that spread across the Middle East in early 2011.

The Times reports that Hedges grew up in Dubai and knows the UAE well. After completing a master’s at Exeter University, he worked for an Emirati-owned military and security research company based in Dubai, before returning to the UK to continue his studies.

He had been living in Exeter with his Colombian-born wife, Daniela Tejada.

Why was he arrested?

Hedges was detained at the end of a two-week trip to research the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies.

He was held in solitary confinement for five months and was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access, The Independent reports. A representative for his family said that his mental and physical health “seriously deteriorated” during his detention.

The UAE attorney general, Hamad al-Shamsi, stated that Hedges had been detained on charges of “spying for a foreign country, jeopardising the military, political and economic security of the state”.

Although it has not been specified which foreign country, reports suggested suspicions were directed at the UK.

Hedges denied the charges and was released on bail on 29 October, but was not allowed to leave the UAE. Last week he was sentenced to life in prison, which in the UAE means a maximum of 25 years in jail.

Why was Hedges pardoned?

Addressing a press conference earlier today, a UAE government spokesperson said that Hedges was “100% a secret service operative” but that he had been pardoned “in consideration of the historical relationship and close ties between the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom”, the BBC reports.

The UAE authorities have said he will be released once “all formalities” are complete.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke to his UAE counterpart over the weekend to discuss Hedges’ appeal for clemency. Today Hunt tweeted: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.”

Meanwhile, Hedges’ wife told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s taken me by surprise and I’m just so happy and so relieved and really incredulous that it is all happening finally.

“It’s been an absolutely nightmarish seven months already and I can’t wait to have him back home.”

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