DUBAI: The British national jailed for life in the UAE for spying has been granted a presidential pardon with immediate effect.
Matthew Hedges was detained on May 5 and was sentenced to life in prison by a UAE court on Nov. 21, 2018.
Reacting to the news his wife Daniele Tejada, who maintains that he was innocent, said she was “absolutely elated” that he had received a pardon, adding that she “cannot wait to have Matt back home.”
She said: “I can't wait to have him back.”
During the announcement Emirati officials said the coviction was on solid ground and showed video clips in which Hedges described his apparent intelligence work with MI6 - the British secret service.
“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was a 100-percent a full-time secret service operative,” said Jaber Al-Lamki, an official with the UAE's National Media Council.
“Mr Hedges has been found guilty of espionage. He sought out sensitive information he knew had access to it. He was here to steal the UAE’s sensitive national security secrets for his paymasters,” Al-Lamki added.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the announcement of his release as “fantastic news.” And he said the British government was grateful to the UAE for resolving the issue in a speedy fashion.
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
Hunt said Britain did not agree with the charges against Hedges. “We've seen no evidence to support these accusations,” Hunt said, adding that the UK is “deeply perplexed” by the charges.
Hunt had lobbied senior UAE officials for Hedges' release.
The presidential pardon is one of 785 as part of the UAE National Day celebrations state news agency WAM reported, adding that Hedges would leave the country once formalities were completed.
Hedge’s case has received widespread coverage in British and international media, as well as comments from various figureheads
Commenting on the verdict and Presidential Pardon, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash said: “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.
“It was always a UAE hope that this matter would be resolved through the common channels of our longstanding partnership. This was a straightforward matter that became unnecessarily complex despite the UAE’s best efforts.”
He said the case against Hedges had relied on evidence that included the accused’s own “electronic devices; surveillance and intelligence gathering by UAE intelligence and security agencies; and evidence provided by Mr Hedges himself – including a corroborated account of asset recruitment and training and the confidential information being targeted. His recruitment and progress within a foreign intelligence service was authenticated to the Court by UAE Intelligence Agencies.”