The United Arab Emirates has issued a pardon to Matthew Hedges, a British academic convicted of security offenses in the repressive, oil-rich state last Thursday.
Matthew Hedges, a PhD candidate at the UK’s prestigious Durham University, was found guilty of espionage offenses in the UAE, where he was arrested last May as he attempted to return to the UK following a research trip.
Matthew Hedges Case Bad PR For UAE
International media attention and political pressure from the UK government, one of the UAE one of its closest allies, may have contributed to the decision to grant unconditional release to the Durham University Academic.
The UAE has an expatriate population over five times its native-born population, and in 2013 welcomed over 10 million tourists. As hub for international business and tourism in recent decades, the UAE has been keen to promote an image as a comparatively liberal destination for foreigners, in comparison to its Islamic traditionalist neighbors in the region.
But both the Matthew Hedges debacle and a series of bad news stories about foreign citizens kept in UAE jails, including the case of British woman Ellie Holman, who was detained in a Dubai jail this summer, along with her young daughter for drinking wine served on a flight operated by the UAE state-owned airline Emirates, have generated negative publicity for the Islamic state.
British Academic Matthew Hedges ‘Worked For MI6’
In granting his unconditional pardon, the UAE maintains that Matthew Hedges was a high-level spy, involved in recruitment and efforts to acquire sensitive military information on behalf of the British government. They have released a video of of Hedges taken during his captivity in which he appears to give a full confession to a number of charges, including that he was a ‘captain’ in MI6.
Accused spy Matthew Hedges, 31, was facing a term of life in prison in a Dubai jail following his sentencing last Thursday following a secret trial.
According to Matthew Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, the academic was kept in solitary confinement for six months, before signing a confession in Arabic without the assistance of a translator.
Hedges neither speaks nor reads Arabic and his family have publicly denied that he could have been a ‘full-time spy’.