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Briton Matthew Hedges jailed for life on UAE spy charge

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A British PhD student has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Matthew Hedges, 31, of Durham University, always denied the charge saying he had been conducting research.

A court in Abu Dhabi has declared him guilty of “spying for or on behalf of” the UK government. His family claim the verdict is based on a false confession.

The PM said the UK was urgently seeking talks with the Emirati government.

Theresa May said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed”.

Mr Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict.

He has raised the case with the “highest levels of the UAE government” and the verdict “is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances”.

In a statement Hedges’ family said during the first six weeks of his detention, he was interrogated without a lawyer and consular access was unavailable.

During this time, they said, he was made to sign a document in Arabic which it transpired was a confession.

“Matthew does not speak or read Arabic,” the family said.

Hedges’ wife, Daniela Tejada, who was present during the brief hearing earlier, said she was in “complete shock”.

She said: “Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them.

“This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no-one taking Matthew’s case seriously.”

She said the British government “must take a stand now” and the UAE authorities “should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice”.

Ms Tejada said her husband shook his head as the verdict was delivered, adding: “I am very scared for Matt.

“I don’t know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse.”

At prime minister’s questions, Tory MP Crispin Blunt told Mrs May she should make clear to the UAE that “if he is not released, I don’t see why we should be committed to their defence”.

Paul Adams

BBC diplomatic correspondent

I was confidently expecting that we would hear some good news today because all the indications through private channels, and things I understood the family had been hearing, that the Foreign Office had been hearing, that MPs had been hearing, was that the UAE was frankly a little embarrassed about this case and wanted it over with.

So no-one was expecting a sentence of life imprisonment, that has absolutely stunned everyone.

According to Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, a life sentence means a maximum of 25 years in jail, after which Hedges would be deported.

Hedges, who is also liable for the costs of the case, has 30 days to appeal during which time he will be held in custody, the paper reports.

It also quotes Attorney General Dr Hamad Al Shamsi who said Hedges “admitted to the claims against him” during questioning.

Mr Hunt has urged the UAE to reconsider the case.

“Our consular officials have been in close contact with Matthew Hedges and his family,” he said.

“We will continue to do everything possible to support him.”

Hedges is said to be in a poor state of mental health, the BBC understands, and Ms Tejada has previously criticised the lack of treatment he received in prison.

His family allege his physical and mental health “seriously deteriorated” during solitary confinement and he was fed a “cocktail of medication” by guards that caused him to vomit on a daily basis.

Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said the conditions Hedges was held in “breached his human rights”.

“[And] this judgement has been delivered in the absence of anything resembling due process or a fair trial,” he said.

“There has been no information given on what basis Matt was handed this sentence and no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research.

“We are committed to doing what we can to get Matt home safely and swiftly.”

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