British student Matthew Hedges has been pardoned and released by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following his life sentence for allegedly spying against the government. He was freed from prison and returned to the UK last week.
He was imprisoned for life following an arrest and interrogation in May, during which he was denied access to legal representation or consular assistance.
UAE officials said Hedges had signed a written confession admitting to being an ‘active officer’ of MI6. Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada have maintained his innocence.
UAE officials announced the presidential pardon on National Day anniversary celebrations, but the announcement included a comment from a spokesman stating that Hedges is ‘100 percent a secret service operative.’
Following pressure from Ms Tejada against the UK government, the Foreign Office steadily increased diplomatic tensions with UAE, an ally of the UK. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he felt ‘personally betrayed’ by the life sentence and subsequently held talks with his UAE counterpart.
Following Mr Hedge’s release, Hunt tweeted to say that ‘although we didn’t agree with the charges, we are grateful to UAE government for resolving [the] issue speedily.’
Hedges is a student at Durham University, studying for a PhD in the UAE’s security strategy. Following his pardon, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge, said he is ‘absolutely delighted to learn the news of Matt’s release.’
Before his pardon, Durham University and Exeter University (where Hedges completed his undergraduate studies) took a strong stance against the UAE’s decision, with a joint statement saying there is ‘no evidence whatsoever that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research.’
Days before the pardon, staff at the University of Birmingham voted to boycott teaching at their UAE campus, and University of Exeter staff passed a motion suspending all academic relations with the UAE.
Responding to news of the pardoning, the University of Exeter said they are ‘extremely pleased,’ and the Russell Group tweeted to say that it is a ‘huge relief to hear that Matthew Hedges has been pardoned.’ The University and College Union issued a warning upon his release.
University and College Union Head of Policy and Campaigns, Matt Waddup, raised concerns about the safety of the other 700,000 students studying abroad for qualifications given by UK universities. He said universities must launch reviews into the ‘human rights and academic freedom’ policies of overseas operations.