British academic Matthew Hedges has been released from custody in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after receiving a pardon from the country’s president. Hedges had been sentenced to life in prison on charges of spying.
He is one of 785 prisoners in UAE to receive pardons by the president. They were announced in a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The pardon is with immediate effect, and Hedges, 31, is expected to be released from prison soon.
Hedges’ family had made a plea for clemency after he received a life sentence.
In a statement to Reuters, his wife Daniela Tejada said she welcomed the news of the presidential pardon and “cannot wait to have Matt back home”.
Shortly after the announcement Tejada tweeted that the pardon was “the best news we could’ve received”.
“Thank you friends, family, media, academics, and the wider public for your undivided support,” she added. “I’ve been brought back to life.”
A video shown at the press conference announcing his release purportedly showed him confessing to being a member of British intelligence agency MI6. Hedges has denied the charges against him.
British officials claim that Hedges had been gathering information from sources as part of his PhD study.
Hedges’ family had said that he had been interrogated without a lawyer, and was made to sign a document written in Arabic – which transpired to be a confession – despite not speaking the language.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had been working closely with Hedges’ family to secure his release, welcomed the pardon.
“Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges,” Hunt tweeted.
“Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE govt for resolving issue speedily.”
Hunt also took the opportunity to highlight the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British journalist who has been detained in Iran since 2013 on charges of spying.
“Also a bittersweet moment as we remember Nazanin & other innocent ppl detained in Iran,” Hunt added.
“Justice won’t be truly done until they too are safely home.”