British PhD student Matthew Hedges has been pardoned in the United Arab Emirates after the country claimed he had confessed to spying.
The UAE said Mr Hedges, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last week, was ‘100 per cent a full-time secret services operative’, as officials shared footage purporting to show the researcher admitting that he worked for MI6.
But today the Durham University researcher was given clemency in a wave of presidential pardons and will be able to leave the country.
His wife Daniela Tejada celebrated the news, saying she had ‘been brought back to life’ and ‘cannot wait to have Matt back home’.
British researcher Matthew Hedges, pictured in London with his wife Daniela Tejada, has been pardoned by the United Arab Emirates after he allegedly confessed to spying
Daniela Tejada shared this picture of the couple together as she celebrated the news of her husband’s release from custody in the United Arab Emirates
She said today: ‘The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could have received.
‘Our six-plus plus months of nightmare are finally over and to say we are elated is an understatement. 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.
‘Thank you friends, family, media, academics, and the wider public for your undivided support – I’ve been brought back to life.’
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 she said: ‘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.’
Ms Tejada rejected the UAE’s claim that her husband was an MI6 agent, telling Today: ‘In my heart I know that he isn’t.’
Asked about the fact that he was being pardoned rather than the spying charges being quashed, she said: ‘If that is what it takes for him to be back I just welcome the news.’
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has lobbied for his release, and the vice-chancellor of Durham University have also welcomed the news.
Mr Hedges, 31, visited the country to research his PhD thesis and was arrested in Dubai Airport on May 5.
The Middle Eastern studies specialist was sentenced to life imprisonment when he appeared in court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
In today’s press conference the UAE alleged Mr Hedges had been ‘using two different identities’, saying he had tried to gather sensitive information on the UAE’s military and ruling families.
Officials said his activities went ‘far beyond standard academic practice’, saying he had admitted to approaching sources in the Middle East while on assignment as a British recruit.
Speaking at the press conference Jaber Al Lamki said the alleged spying was a ‘serious threat to national security’.
The video, which reporters were not allowed to film, shows Hedges describing himself as a captain in MI6 – a rank which does not exist – during what appears to be a court hearing in the Arab country.
The British academic’s delighted wife celebrated the news on Twitter saying she had been ‘brought back to life’ by Mr Hedges’ release
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt today welcomed news that Matthew Hedges had been given a presidential pardon after he was imprisoned for spying
At a press conference today (pictured) UAE official Jaber Al Lamki said he had video of British student Matthew Hedges confessing to being a spy, but said it had pardoned him
Matthew Hedges, pictured with his wife Daniela Tejada, started a life jail term in the United Arab Emirates after he was convicted of spying but has now been pardoned
Mr Hedges was one of 785 people pardoned by the UAE, which has a history of issuing a wave of pardons in anticipation of its national day on December 2.
UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash said: ‘His Highness the President’s gracious clemency 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.
‘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.
‘His recruitment and progress within a foreign intelligence service was authenticated to the court by UAE intelligence agencies.
‘The gracious Presidential customary National Day pardon allows us to close this chapter and to concentrate on the many positive aspects of the relationship.’
Daniela Tajeda, pictured with her husband on holiday in Thailand, has said she is ‘elated’ at the news that Mr Hedges will be freed from prison in the United Arab Emirates
Colombian-born Miss Tejada, a PR executive, met Mr Hedges at Exeter University eight years ago when she still a teenager
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the news, saying 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.’
He told BBC Radio 4: ‘We never saw any evidence for these charges against Matthew Hedges, and we made that clear.
‘And I think the UAE authorities to their credit have been willing to listen to us in the past few days.
‘Matthew Hedges is coming home, and everyone recognises that he has been through a very tough time, but that his wife Daniela, his wife has been to hell and back frankly, and she fought incredibly hard. And having met her last week, she is a very determined lady.’
Durham University vice-chancellor Stuart Corbridge said: ‘We are absolutely delighted to learn the news of Matt’s impending release.
‘It is paramount that he is now allowed to return home to Daniela and his family as quickly and safely as possible.
‘We will continue to offer Matt’s family our full support in the aftermath of this traumatic ordeal and we will be thrilled to welcome him back to the Durham University community.’
Professor Corbridge had earlier said there was ‘no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research’.
Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen 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 Hedges, 31, pictured with his wife Daniela Tejada, was sentenced to life imprisonment when he appeared in court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday
‘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.
‘Today’s news is a tribute to the tireless efforts of Matthew’s wife Daniela, who has bravely pushed the UK Government into taking action.’
Ms Tejada had extensively lobbied the British government to push for his release, saying she feared for his health if he was forced to serve his sentence.
A petition she started on Change.org had almost 250,000 signatures by the time of Monday’s announcement.
The country has defended its judicial process, saying that ‘compelling and powerful evidence’ had proved espionage, including computer analysis and an alleged confession.
A law chief in the Gulf federation said the case had been ‘thoroughly investigated’ and warned the government ‘does not attempt to interfere in court cases’.
‘We cannot give assurances to other countries about the outcome of trials,’ they said.
The UAE rejected claims that Mr Hedges was forced to sign a document in Arabic that has been used as the ‘confession’ and said he was provided with translators.
But UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had seen ‘absolutely no evidence’ to support prosecutors’ allegations that Mr Hedges was spying when he visited Dubai earlier this year.
Mr Hunt also threatened ‘serious diplomatic consequences’ if the student was not freed.