A British national jailed for life in the UAE for spying has been granted presidential pardon, the Gulf country’s state news agency WAM reported.
UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan pardoned Hedges along with more than 780 others ahead of the country’s National Day.
Matthew Hedges, above, who was detained on May 5 this year, was given life sentence by a UAE court only five days ago. He can now leave the country once the formalities are completed, WAM said.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who intensely lobbied for Hedges’ release, welcomed the “fantastic news” and thanked the UAE for speedy resolution of the issue.
Hedges’ wife Daniele Tejada, above, said she was “absolutely elated” that he received royal pardon.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said both the UAE and the UK can now return focus on their strong bi-lateral ties.
Gargash said the case against Hedges was based on evidence such as the academic’s own electronic devices and admission on asset recruitment and training to gather confidential information.
UAE officials defended the arrest by showing video clips in which Hedges said he was doing intelligence work with MI6, an arm of British intelligence.
Hedges was a part-time PhD researcher and businessman and a full-time secret service operative, said Jaber Al-Lamki, an official with the UAE’s National Media Council.
Hedges was found guilty of espionage. He came to UAE to steal national security secrets. Despite serious charges he faced, he was given a fair trial, Al-Lamki added.
Hedges’ family and university colleagues, however, believe that he was innocent and he fell foul to the UAE’s security and justice system.