Matthew Hedges (Loveday 2006 where he was Matthew Hook) , who was jailed for life on spying charges by the United Arab Emirates last week, has been released hours after a presidential pardon by the country’s rulers.
The move follows intense lobbying by the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, amid an international outcry that left the UAE scrambling to produce evidence to justify claims that Hedges was a spy.
Announcing the pardon, the UAE continued to insist Hedges was an MI6 agent, and played video footage showing him apparently confessing that he had been trying to discover military secrets, including about the UAE’s weapons purchases.
“The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could have received,” said Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada. “Our six-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.
“Without the involvement of the media, the overwhelming support of academics, the public worldwide, the work of the British diplomatic body in the UAE and Hunt’s intervention, this would have never happened.”
Hunt said the UK government had “never seen any evidence” the spying charges were true. He also praised Ms Tejada, describing her as a “determined lady” who had “fought incredibly hard and been to hell and back”.
The short video clips shown by the UAE did not provide context but showed Hedges discussing how MI6 operates in the UAE, and apparently confessing to holding the rank of captain in MI6, a position that does not exist. The clips are not being shared by the UAE for wider broadcast.
Hedges, who is studying for a PHD at Durham, has protested his innocence since his arrest at Dubai airport in May, maintaining he had been researching the country’s security strategy. He was kept in solitary confinement for his first five months before being released on bail on October 29 and given an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements.
In a statement, Hedges’ family said that during the first six weeks of his detention he was interrogated without a lawyer and consular access was unavailable. During this time he was made to sign a document in Arabic which transpired to be a confession, they said, adding that “Matthew does not speak or read Arabic”. The case against him has never been made public and reports state that the trial was over in a matter of minutes.