British academic pardoned
That British academic, Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison for "spying" in the United Arab Emirates, has been pardoned with immediate effect has brought relief to many. He has been released from prison and should be in London by now. Hedges, 31, was sentenced after a five-minute hearing. A family spokeswoman said Hedges was forced to sign a confession in Arabic, a language Hedges did not read nor speak. Before announcing his pardon, authorities in Abu Dhabi showed journalists a video that purportedly showed Hedges confessing to being a spy, though it's unclear if the statement was made under duress. Hedges is a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Durham. He was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport, following a research trip. He went on to spend almost six months in solitary confinement. The UAE claimed that Hedges used his academic work as a cover to enter the country for espionage, a claim British authorities have denied. Hedges was granted a presidential pardon following a request for clemency from his family and in consideration of "the historical relationship and close ties between the UAE and the UK," Jaber al-Lamki of the UAE National Media Council said. Interestingly, in a statement UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said that Hedges' pardon will allow both sides "to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE UK bilateral relationship and its importance to the international community." Hedges' imprisonment had taken a toll on London's relationship with Abu Dhabi. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously called the case "unacceptable" and warned of "serious diplomatic consequences." Hunt said in a tweet that his country was grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue speedily, "although we didn't agree on the charges."
Despite his release, the UAE continues to assert that Hedges was guilty of espionage. The Emiratis said that the five-minute hearing was a sentencing hearing and that Hedges had three separate hearings prior to that. Hedges' pardon came after reporters in Abu Dhabi were shown grainy video of him confessing to being an officer for MI6, Britain's intelligence agency and admitting to gathering information on the Emirates' military, its key industries and key government figures using his academic credentials as a guise. One piece of evidence used in court was a video in which Hedges was asked his rank in MI6. He replies, "captain," despite the fact that there is no such thing as a captain or any military rank in MI6. Ben Bradshaw, the member of Parliament who represents Hedges' constituency said last week that the British government and Durham University had assured UAE authorities that Hedges was not a spy. Bradshaw, naturally, called Hedges' release a "great news".