The United Arab Emirates has pardoned and will release British academic Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of spying.
Monday’s announcement came after Emirati officials released a video which showed Hedges, a 31-year-old doctoral student at Durham University in England, purportedly saying that he was a captain of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency. In the video, he said he approached sources using a cover as a doctoral student.
Hedges was arrested at Dubai International Airport in May after a two-week research visit in the UAE. He was sentenced to life in prison for spying in an Abu Dhabi court last week.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called it “fantastic news,” adding that “although we didn’t agree with charges, we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.”
UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the pardon on Sunday. It was part of a mass clemency of 700 prisoners to mark the country’s National Day, according to an announcement carried by state news agency WAM.
Authorities said Hedges will be allowed to leave the country once procedures securing his release are finished.
The pardon comes after mounting international pressure regarding the Hedge’s life sentence. The UAE said on Friday that it was looking for an “amicable solution” to the issue after the British government called last week’s ruling “disappointing.”
Hedges has been in custody for more than six months. According to his wife, Daniela Tejada, he was held in solitary confinement, slept on the floor and had no access to a shower.
Tejada told the BBC on Monday that she was “absolutely elated” upon hearing her husband had been pardoned and said she believed her husband is not a spy.
“The family and I welcome the news of the presidential pardon and cannot wait to have Matt back home,” she said, adding, “In my heart, I know that he isn’t a spy.”
dv/ng (AP, Reuters)