A British PhD student jailed for spying in the UAE has returned to the UK a day after he was pardoned and released as part of the country’s National Day clemency tradition.
Matthew Hedges, a British academic, was released on Monday despite the UAE showing a video of him apparently confessing to being a member of MI6, Britain’s intelligence agency. Britain denied he was a spy and welcomed his release.
In a statement, Mr Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada, who lobbied intensively for his release, said she “can’t wait” to have her husband back home.
She said: “The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could have received. Our six plus months of nightmare are finally over and to say we are elated is an understatement.”
The head of MI6 says he's "perplexed" about why Durham Uni student Matthew Hedges was accused of being a spy himself.
The 31-year-old was jailed in the UAE but released last week after being pardoned.
— Metro Radio News (@MetroRadioNews) December 3, 2018
Ms Tejada also credited the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, with Mr Hedges’ release. The increased lobbying by Mr Hunt, alongside the international outcry following Hedges arrest, left the UAE struggling to produce evidence justifying his arrest.
Hedges’ family confirmed that he arrived back to the UK in a flight to Heathrow on Tuesday morning.
Hedges praised his “brave and strong” wife and claimed that being back in the UK was “surreal”.
The PhD student, who spent seven months in prison, mainly in solitary confinement, added his thanks for the British embassy and the Foreign Office in ensuring his return home.
During a press conference on Monday, the UAE maintained their insistence that Hedges was an MI6 agent and played footage appearing to show him confessing that he had tried to discover military secrets, including surrounding the UAE’s weapons purchases.
The UAE has now claimed that Hedges’ release could have been secured earlier in the year had it not been due to insufficient high-level assurances by the Foreign Office that he was not a spy.
So pleased Matthew Hedges – the PhD student who was jailed in the UAE on spy charges has been pardoned! Was moved to read in the Times at the weekend that his wife Daniela read him Reasons to Stay Alive while he awaited trial. So glad he is free! pic.twitter.com/HMtgNDn2UN
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) November 27, 2018
It appears that Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary at the time of Hedges arrest, was seen as incapable of dealing with the issue following his mishmash approach in the efforts to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Tejada has even said that she was “very cautious” about Johnson’s involvement and concerned that his “flippant comments would hurt Matt’s case”.
One Emirati source said: “People feel genuinely hurt and do not understand why it was not resolved back in July.”
Many think this shows the previously chaotic nature of the Foreign Office under Johnson’s leadership as they believe Hedges case should have been solved much earlier.
Hedges was arrested at Dubai Airport in May and handed a life sentence by a court in Abu Dhabi last week. The doctoral student was understood to have travelled to the UAE to examine the impact of Arab Spring revolutions on UAWE foreign and security policy. But two weeks later he was charged with “spying on behalf of a foreign state”.
His clemency was granted on Sunday by the UAE president, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was one of over 800 pardons granted by the country.