Matthew Hedges: Jailed UAE spy row Briton 'terrified'

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A British student, convicted of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and jailed for life, is “absolutely terrified”, his wife says.

Daniela Tejada said she had had “five minutes” on the phone with Matthew Hedges for the first time since his sentencing and he is “not well”.

Hedges, 31, denied spying and said he had been researching his PhD. Prosecutors said he confessed.

The UAE government is studying a request for clemency by his family.

Ms Tejada confirmed the request had been made, adding: “We will wait to see what happens.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador said there was hope for an “amicable solution”.

Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui said the country has an “independent judiciary” like the UK, and the government “does not dictate verdicts to the court”.

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The ambassador said three judges spent a month evaluating “compelling evidence” against Hedges in what was an “extremely serious” but “unusual” case.

He added: “We live in a dangerous neighbourhood and national security must be a top priority.

“Mr Hedges family have made a request for clemency and the government is studying that request.

“We have an extremely close partnership with the UK, because of the strength of that relationship we are hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached.”

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Ms Tejada, who was in the court when her husband was sentenced, said he is “not well”.

“He is just absolutely terrified at the idea of having to spend the rest of his life behind bars for an offence he hasn’t committed,” she said.

“His panic attacks have become worse than they were before, however he did say he has access to a doctor.

“I don’t know yet whether he has been able to have access to the prescription he had been given during this time of bail, which was working wonders for him.

“I wasn’t allowed to know where he is, we still don’t know anything about his whereabouts.”

More than 160,000 people have signed an online petition set up by Ms Tejada.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams earlier tweeted that things were “looking a bit more positive” for Hedges, with Foreign Office sources suggesting there had been an “olive branch” from the Emirati foreign minister.

On Thursday evening, Mr Hunt tweeted he had “just had a constructive conversation with UAE FM [Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed”.

“I believe and trust he’s working hard to resolve the situation asap,” he posted.

“We’ve a close partnership with UAE which will help us take things forward.”

Analysis by BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams

Yesterday was a remarkable day.

It started off with the UAE ambassador going to the Foreign Office and getting what we think was quite a dressing down from Jeremy Hunt, who has made his fury at this life sentence very clear indeed.

And then in the afternoon, following a statement from the UAE Foreign Ministry about the two sides working towards some kind of amicable solution, there was another conversation, this time with the Foreign Minister of the UAE, which Mr Hunt said had been “constructive”. He believed the Foreign Minister was working hard to resolve this as soon as possible.

So the tone dramatically changed in just a few hours, and the impression I am getting from both sides is that they are now working assiduously and with some urgency to try and get this sorted out, possibly very soon.

Mr Hunt met Ms Tejada in the wake of her criticism of the UK government for failing to take a firm enough stance with the UAE.

However, speaking afterwards, Ms Tejada thanked the foreign secretary for “taking the time” to meet her at “this crucial point”.

Hedges, a political scientist at Durham University who is originally from Exeter, had been in the country researching the UAE’s security strategy for his PhD thesis when he was arrested at Dubai airport on 5 May.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country was “determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally” and added it hoped both sides could find “an amicable solution” to the case.

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