World

Britain asks U.A.E. for clemency in case of academic jailed for life

The ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in London said Friday his government is studying whether to grant clemency to a convicted British academic sentenced to life in prison for espionage.

Matthew Hedges' wife reassured by U.K. Foreign Office after earlier criticizing their handling of the matter

Daniela Tejada, wife of British academic Matthew Hedges who was jailed in the U.A.E. for spying, says she now believes British authorities are working to free her husband. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

The ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in London said Friday his government is studying whether to grant clemency to a convicted British academic sentenced to life in prison for espionage.

Ambassador Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui said that the family of Matthew Hedges has requested clemency and the government is considering it.

The ambassador said he has met with British officials to discuss the case, which has threatened close ties between the two friendly countries.

He said the espionage case against the 31-year-old Hedges "was an extremely serious case" and that he had been convicted based on "compelling evidence" after a full and fair judicial process.

"The crimes Mr. Hedges was accused of are extremely serious. For the U.A.E., like all countries, protecting our national security must be our first priority," he said.

Hedges, a doctoral student in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University in northern England, has been detained since May 5, when he was arrested at Dubai International Airport after a two-week research visit.

Hedges' family has said the evidence presented against him consisted of notes from his dissertation research.

The ambassador denied claims that Hedges received only a brief court hearing before being convicted and said the British academic had proper legal representation in court.

That account was contradicted by Hedges' wife, Daniela Tejada,

"Matt was held in an undisclosed location in solitary confinement for over five months, with no charge, no lawyer and very limited consular access," she said. "The judicial system in the U.A.E. and the U.K. cannot be compared. I was in the courtroom and the hearing lasted less than five minutes."

U.K. foreign secretary 'deeply shocked' by verdict

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in the U.A.E. who is well connected to Emirati officials, said he believes the government "must" have credible evidence against Hedges.

"I think what they have probably against him is that he does work for a government, with probably [a] name tag, with ranking, with evidence," he said.

This undated family photo shows Hedges with Tejada. Hedges, a PhD student in Middle Eastern Studies at Durham University, was arrested at Dubai Airport on May 5. (Daniela Tejada via Associated Press)

He said some sort of pardon is possible and that the case is unlikely to damage the "hugely important, mutually beneficial relationship" between the U.A.E. and Britain.

Tejada said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday that she believes British authorities are working to free her husband.

"[Hunt] has assured me that he and his team are doing everything in their power to get Matt free and return him home to me," she said. "This is not a fight I can win alone, and I thank the Foreign Office and the British public for now standing up for one of their citizens."

She had previously expressed some disappointment with how her case was handled at home, accusing the British government in an interview with the BBC of "stepping on eggshells instead of taking a firm stance."

Hunt said after the verdict Wednesday he was "deeply shocked" and that the result was "not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom."

On Friday, a spokesperson for Britain's Foreign Office said, "We hope the U.A.E. now looks favourably on the family's request for clemency."

The U.A.E. is strategically located on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and the British military trains with U.A.E. troops. The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are home to large numbers of British nationals who work in areas ranging from finance to sports, and thousands of tourists visit the country each year, attracted by sunny beaches, luxury hotels and theme parks.

Ties also include lucrative defence contracts that are important to U.K. companies.

With files from Reuters

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