Matthew Hedges, the British academic jailed for life for spying in the UAE has been pardoned, officials confirmed on Monday morning.
The 31-year-old was jailed last week. Responding to the news, his wife Daniela Tejada said: “The family and I welcome the news of the presidential pardon and cannot wait to have Matt back home.”
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s taken me by surprise and I’m just so happy and so relieved and really incredulous that it is all happening finally.
“It’s been an absolutely nightmarish seven months already and I can’t wait to have him back.”
But news of the pardon came as Emirati officials released a video of him appearing to confess he is a captain in MI6.
However Tejada rejected the UAE’s claim, telling the BBC: “In my heart I know that he isn’t.”
Asked about the fact that he was being pardoned rather than the spying charges being quashed, she said: “If that is what it takes for him to be back I just welcome the news.”
Hedges, originally from Exeter, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on 5 May following a two-week visit.
Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said there is “no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research”.
Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and Tejada launched a petition on Change.org which gathered more than 160,000 signatures.
Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges.Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE govt for resolving issue speedily.But also a bittersweet moment as we remember Nazanin &other innocent ppl detained in Iran.Justice won’t be truly done until they too are safely home.
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) November 26, 2018
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges.
“Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily. But also a bittersweet moment as we remember Nazanin & other innocent people detained in Iran. Justice won’t be truly done until they too are safely home.”
Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen said it was a “huge relief” after the researcher’s “grossly unfair” trial. “Matthew should never have been jailed after such an unfair process, and he should never have been held in the miserable conditions of solitary confinement. A pardon doesn’t make up for this injustice,” Allen said on Monday morning.
The official Emirates News Agency reported that Hedges was granted a presidential pardon with immediate effect after his family appealed for clemency.
It said the “customary National Day Presidential pardon” included Hedges as part of a tranche of clemency orders issued “on the occasion of the UAE’s 47th National Day anniversary”.
“Mr Hedges will be permitted to leave the UAE once formalities are completed.”
The agency quoted UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash saying: “His Highness the President’s gracious clemency in the customary National Day pardons allows us to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE/UK bi-lateral relationship and its importance to the international community.”
There had been optimism the Gulf state would show some leniency towards Hedges after an official said the nation wanted to find an “amicable solution”
The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could’ve received. Thank you friends, family, media, academics, and the wider public for your undivided support – I’ve been brought back to life. pic.twitter.com/vruok0ST6O
— Daniela Tejada (@dtejadav) November 26, 2018
In a statement at the UAE embassy in London on Friday, ambassador Sulaiman Almazroui praised the closeness between the two nations as he said clemency was being considered for the “extremely serious case”.
It followed comments by Abdulla Al Naqbi, the head of the foreign ministry’s legal department – who said that “compelling and powerful evidence” had proved espionage, including computer analysis and an alleged confession.
– May 5 2018: Hedges is reportedly taken into custody at Dubai airport after travelling to the UAE to interview sources about the country’s foreign policy and security strategy.
– October 10: A court in Abu Dhabi hears Hedges’ case, but adjourns for another hearing on October 24.
– October 11: Hedges’ wife calls on UAE officials to “admit that they’ve made a mistake” and to release her husband. Tejada says she has not been told what exactly her husband has been accused of, but she does not rule out the prospect of him being accused of spying.
– October 11: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt personally raises Hedges’ case with his UAE counterpart amid concerns over his mental health and well-being.
– October 15: Tejada sees reports that her husband will go on trial for spying and says he is a man of principle with an “impeccable track record”.
– October 16: The Foreign Office says it is “deeply concerned” about Hedges.
– October 19: Hedges is said to be suffering from “significant health issues” after spending more than five months in solitary confinement. In a joint statement, Durham and Exeter Universities say they are “deeply concerned” about Hedges’ welfare.
– October 25: Hedges denies spying for the UK Government when he appears at the Federal Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi. Tejada says the Foreign Office has been lobbying for Hedges’ welfare, but her requests to meet the Foreign Secretary have not been granted.
– October 29: Hedges is released on bail. His wife, Tejada, welcomes the development, adding: “I cannot allow myself to get too excited by this information as Matt is not fully free yet.”
– November 21: Hedges is sentenced to life imprisonment in a five-minute hearing at an Abu Dhabi court. Prime Minister Theresa May says she is “deeply disappointed and concerned” about the case, while Hunt urges the UAE to reconsider the sentence.
– November 22: Tejada says she has won assurances that the Government is “now standing up for one of its citizens” after a meeting with Hunt. Prior to the meeting, she had condemned the Foreign Office over its handling of the case.
– November 23: In a statement at the UAE embassy in London, ambassador Sulaiman Almazroui praises the closeness between the two nations as he says clemency is being considered for the “extremely serious case”.
– November 25: Hunt has “constructive” talks with his UAE counterpart over the fate of Hedges.
– November 26: Hedges is pardoned in the UAE, as Emirati officials show a video of him saying he is a captain in MI6.