UAE government ‘studying request for clemency’ over jailed Briton

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Clemency for a British academic jailed for life in the United Arab Emirates on a spying charge is being considered by the Gulf state’s leaders, an official announced as he defended the nation’s judicial system.

Diplomatic efforts to free PhD student Matthew Hedges are being led by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt amid an outcry after the 31-year-old was handed the sentence earlier this week.

The Durham University researcher’s wife, Daniela Tejada, has lobbied for his release and won assurances from Mr Hunt that the Government is “now standing up for” her husband, after she claimed it had initially put foreign relations above his liberty.

Mr Hunt held further talks with his UAE counterpart on Friday and said he believed the Emirati authorities were”working constructively to find a solution to this problem”.

“Mr Hedges’ family have made a request for clemency and the government is studying that request,” he said.

“Because of the strength of that relationship we are hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached.”

Daniela Tejada
Daniela Tejada said she believes the Government is now ‘standing up’ for her husband (David Mirzoeff/PA)

He did not address whether the academic was given adequate legal representation throughout the process, which Ms Tejada has said he lacked.

She swiftly rebuked the ambassador’s defence, saying her husband had been held in solitary confinement for more than five months without charge or lawyer, and when he did receive consular access he was not able to “talk openly”.

“The judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared,” she said in a statement.

“We have asked for clemency, we will wait to see what happens.”

The UAE has a history of issuing a wave of pardons in anticipation of its national day, which falls on December 2.

Despite the diplomatic efforts being made, Ms Tejada said her husband remains in fear that he will have to serve the entirety of his sentence, after speaking to him in a brief phone call on Thursday night.

“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 told the BBC.

“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.”

Matthew Hedges detention
Daniela Tejada, wife of British academic Matthew Hedges who was jailed for life in the United Arab Emirates on an allegation of spying, arrives at the Foreign Office for a meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (David Mirzoeff/PA)

However, he added that “compelling and powerful evidence” had proved espionage, including computer analysis and an alleged confession.

Ms Tejada has stressed her husband’s innocence and said the Middle East expert, who was finishing his thesis, was the victim of a “misunderstanding” while carrying out 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 has threatened “serious diplomatic consequences” if he is not freed.

Answering questions about the case on Facebook, Mr Hunt said: “This is an issue we have been in constant touch with the Emirati authorities on.

“The thing that I have been encouraged about is that I have been able to have constructive, positive discussions with the Emirati foreign minister Abdullah Bin Zayed and I have been in further touch with him this afternoon.

“I do believe that they are working constructively to find a solution to this problem.

“I think that is the intention of the Emirati government.

“This is at a delicate stage as those discussions happen.”

He had previously voiced surprise at the life sentence handed to Mr Hedges on Wednesday, which came despite his discussions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed a little over a week earlier.

Matthew Hedges detention
Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada (Daniela Tejada/PA)

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

The Foreign Office said: “We hope the UAE now looks favourably on the family’s request for clemency.”

Meanwhile drivers and fans at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday have been urged by Amnesty International to show their support for Mr Hedges.

The human rights organisation said a supportive tweet from a big name in Formula One could help the Briton’s cause.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, accused the UAE of ‘sportswashing’, where a controversial regime uses sport to enhance its reputation.

She said: “Arrest, extended solitary confinement and sham trials are the dark reality for those who the authorities go after in the UAE – a far cry from the glamour of motor sport.

“We can’t allow the UAE to use the Grand Prix for yet more ‘sportswashing’.

“The UAE authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for peacefully criticising the authorities.”

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