Matthew Hedges: UAE considering clemency for British academic jailed for life on spying charges

As PhD student's wife warns her husband's health is deteriorating

The UAE’s London ambassador defends trial of Matthew Hedges but says his government is studying a request for clemency made by his family

The UAE is considering an appeal for clemency from the family of British academic Matthew Hedges after he received a life sentence on spying charges.

Sulaiman Almazroui, the UAE’s ambassador in London, said in a statement on Friday morning that British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had a “good” conversation with his Emirati counterpart.

Mr Almazroui, who also held a private meeting with Mr Hunt on Thursday, rebutted criticism that the PhD student was victim of a show trial and said his government did not “dictate” the courts, comparing his country’s processes to the UK.

Reacting to the ambassador’s statement, the researcher’s wife Daniela Tejada said “the judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared”.

“Matt was held in an undisclosed location in solitary confinement for over five months, with no charge, no lawyer and very limited consular access. When he did receive consular access, he was not allowed to talk openly about his case and thus never received advice as to what his rights were,” she said. ”We have asked for clemency, we will wait to see what happens.”

It comes after Mr Hunt, who is leading the diplomatic efforts in Mr Hedges’ case, said his conversation with the UAE’s foreign minister was “constructive”.

Mr Hedges, originally from Exeter, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on 5 May. He denies the charges.

Ms Tejada has stressed her husband’s innocence and said the Durham University academic, who was finishing his thesis at the time of his arrest, was the victim of a “misunderstanding”.

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”.

Mr Hunt said he has seen “absolutely no evidence” to support claims that Mr Hedges was spying when he visited Dubai earlier this year, and he threatened “serious diplomatic consequences” if he is not freed.

In his statement on Friday, the Emirati ambassador described the case against Mr Hedges as “extremely serious” and “unusual”, saying many academics worked in the Middle Eastern nation without “breaking the law”.

The 31-year-old ”was not convicted after a five minute trial as some have reported”, Mr Almazroui said.

Instead, three judges evaluated “compelling evidence” in three hearings over the course of one month, according to the diplomat.

Mr Hedges’ family has claimed he lacked adequate legal representation, but Mr Almazroui did not address the allegation in his statement.

Ms Tejada, who said she spoked with her husband briefly, earlier told the BBC she feared her husband’s health was deteriorating.

“He is not well. He mentioned that his panic attacks have become worse than they were before. However, he did say that he has access to a doctor,” she said.

“I wasn’t allowed to know where he is, so still don’t know anything about his whereabouts, and I think he’s just absolutely terrified at the idea of having to spend the rest of his life behind bars for an offence he hasn’t committed.”

Mr Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and Ms Tejada has launched a petition on Change.org which has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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