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Espionage

Briton jailed by UAE for spying returns to London

  • British intelligence officials have still not denied the spying allegation, saying only they do not comment on intelligence matters
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 5:26pm

British academic Matthew Hedges returned to London on Tuesday, his family said, a day after the UAE pardoned his life sentence for spying in a case he described as “very surreal”.

“After almost seven months of detention, including six months in solitary confinement, British PhD researcher Matthew Hedges has returned safely back to London,” his family said in a statement.

Concluding an ordeal which stunned Britain, he was welcomed back to Britain by his wife Daniela Tejada and other members of his family.

“I don’t know where to begin with thanking people for securing my release,” Hedges said in the statement. “I have not seen or read much of what has been written over the past few days but Dani tells me the support has been incredible.”

He thanked the British embassy in the United Arab Emirates, the Foreign Office and especially his wife for their efforts in securing his release.

“Matt and I, as well as his family, really need some time to process everything that we have been through,” Tejada said on Tuesday. “No one should ever have to go through what he did and it will take him time to heal and recover. He is very overwhelmed. To say we are happy is an understatement.”

Hedges, a 31-year-old researcher at Durham University, was detained while researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the so-called Arab spring revolutions of 2011.

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He was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport and sentenced to life in jail by a court in Abu Dhabi last week after being convicted of spying for a foreign country.

On Monday Emirati officials said Hedges had been pardoned, while still asserting he spied for MI6, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency. Officials even showed reporters video clips of Hedges seemingly acknowledging his intelligence work.

“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was a 100-per cent a full-time secret service operative,” said Jaber al-Lamki, an official with the UAE’s National Media Council.

Supporters say Hedges was in the UAE as part of research for his doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies.

British intelligence officials have still not denied the spying allegation, saying only they do not comment on intelligence matters.

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Britain thanked its Gulf ally after he was among more than 700 prisoners pardoned by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan for next month’s National Day.

UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said the pardon allowed the two countries to refocus on developing relations.