- Daniela Tejada via Reuters
- The United Arab Emirates on Monday pardoned Matthew Hedges, a British academic who was sentenced to life in prison on spying charges at a five-minute trial last week.
- Hedges was released hours after the pardon.
- Emirati officials at a Monday news conference showed clips in which Hedges reportedly appears to confess to being a captain of MI6 and discuss his research related to the British spy agency.
- Journalists weren’t allowed to record the videos.
- Hedges’ wife has denied the espionage charges but said she was “willing to admit to anything” to secure his freedom.
The United Arab Emirates on Monday pardoned Matthew Hedges, a British academic who was sentenced to life in prison on spying charges, after showing videos in which he reportedly appears to confess to working for MI6.
Hedges, a 31-year-old doctoral student in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, was in detention since his arrest at the Dubai airport in May. He was sentenced to life in prison during a five-minute hearing on Wednesday.
The UAE’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pardoned Hedges and 784 other convicts on Monday as part of the country’s National Day, the state-run WAM news agency reported.
Emirati officials at a news conference on Monday also showed footage of Hedges appearing to describe himself as a captain of MI6, Britain’s foreign spy agency, during what looked like a court hearing, The Associated Press reported.
Another video appeared to show Hedges telling someone in an office that “it helps the research to go in an easy way,” according to the AP. He could then be seen snapping his fingers and saying, “Then it becomes MI6,” the report said.
Journalists at the news conference were not allowed to record the videos.
Sky News described officials as saying on Monday that the UAE had evidence that Hedges “was collecting sensitive economic data and information on its military.” One official told the outlet that Hedges was “100% a full-time secret service operative” and that the data he gathered went “far beyond” academic research.
Hedges, who had no lawyer present at his five-minute court hearing on Wednesday, was found “guilty of the crime of spying for and on behalf of a foreign state, jeopardising the military, economic and political security of the UAE,” WAM said.
UAE Attorney General Hamad Al Shamsi also said that during his questioning, Hedges “admitted to the claims against him, which were identical to evidence and information gained from his own electronic devices and investigations conducted by the UAE’s security agencies,” according to Al Arabiya, a news channel funded by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, denied that he was a spy. She told Britain’s Channel 4 News last week that she was “willing to admit to anything as long as I have my husband back with me” even though “we all know he isn’t guilty of what he’s been accused of.”
The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted on Monday: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE govt for resolving issue speedily.”
Tejada told the BBC’s “Today” radio program on Monday: “It’s taken me by surprise, and I’m just so happy and so relieved and really incredulous that this is all happening finally. It’s been an absolutely nightmarish seven months already, and I can’t wait to have him back.”
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s foreign minister, said, according to WAM, “The gracious Presidential customary National Day pardon allows us to close this chapter and to concentrate on the many positive aspects of the relationship.”