Briton Matthew Hedges jailed for life on UAE spy charge

Matthew Hedges is found guilty of spying but his family say the verdict is based on a false confession.

A British PhD student has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Matthew Hedges, 31, of Durham University, denies the charge and said he had been conducting research.

A court in Abu Dhabi has declared him guilty of “spying for or on behalf of” the UK government. His family claim the verdict is based on a false confession.

The PM said the UK was urgently seeking talks with the Emirati government.

Theresa May said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “urgently seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed.”

Mr Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.

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A statement from the family said during the first six weeks of his detention, Hedges was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access available.

During this time, they said, he was made to sign a document in Arabic which it transpired was a confession.

“Matthew does not speak or read Arabic,” the family statement said.

Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, who was present during the brief hearing earlier, said she was in “complete shock”.

Daniela Tejada with her husband Matthew HedgesImage copyrightDANIELA TEJADA
Image captionDaniela Tejada has repeatedly rejected suggestions her husband, Matthew Hedges, is a spy

She said: “Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them.

“This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no-one taking Matthew’s case seriously.”

She said the British government “must take a stand now” and the UAE authorities “should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice”.

Ms Tejada said her husband shook his head as the verdict was delivered, adding: “I am very scared for Matt.

“I don’t know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Tory MP Crispin Blunt told Mrs May she should make clear to the UAE that “if he is not released, I don’t see why we should be committed to their defence”.

According to the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, a life sentence means a maximum of 25 years in jail after which Hedges would be deported.

Hedges, who is also liable for the costs of the case, has 30 days to appeal, the paper reports.

He will be in jail until his appeal and the authorities will also confiscate all his equipment, devices and research, the report continues.

The National also quotes Attorney General Dr Hamad Al Shamsi who said Hedges “admitted to the claims against him” during questioning.

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Paul Adams

BBC diplomatic correspondent

I was confidently expecting that we would hear some good news today because all the indications through private channels, and things I understood the family had been hearing, that the FO had been hearing, that MPs had been hearing, was that the UAE was frankly a little embarrassed about this case and wanted it over with.

So no-one was expecting a sentence of life imprisonment, that has absolutely stunned everyone.

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Mr Hunt said he had raised the case with the “highest levels of the UAE government” and the verdict “is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances”.

He also urged the UAE to reconsider the case.

Mr Hunt said: “Our consular officials have been in close contact with Matthew Hedges and his family.

“We will continue to do everything possible to support him.”

Hedges is said to be in a poor state of mental health, the BBC understands, and Ms Tejada has previously criticised the lack of treatment he received in prison.

His family allege his physical and mental health “seriously deteriorated” during solitary confinement and he was fed a “cocktail of medication” by guards that caused him to vomit on a daily basis.

Dr John Williams, the head of government and international affairs at Durham University, said the case was “appalling” and “lacks most of the features we would accept as a fair trial”.

He said: “Clearly Matt’s innocence is beyond question in this case.

“As an academic community, as a group of human beings, we are appalled and deeply upset by the terrible sentence and the injustice of the conviction.”

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