UK Student 'Terrified' After Hearing Fate in UAE

Matthew Hedges, who says he's innocent, has been sentenced to life for spying
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2018 6:30 AM CST
UK Student Gets Life Sentence in UAE for Spying
This undated family photo shows Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada.   (Daniela Tejada via AP, FILE)

(Newser) – It took about five minutes, without an attorney present, for the UK's Matthew Hedges to learn his fate Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates: He's been sentenced to life in prison on spying charges. Per the New York Times, UAE Attorney General Hamad Al Shamsi accused Hedges of "spying for a foreign country, jeopardizing the military, political, and economic security of the state." It revolved around Hedges' postdoctoral work for Durham University: The 31-year-old meant to shed more light on how the Mideast's 2011 Arab Spring uprisings affected the UAE, but the UAE may have "construed [it] as crossing a red line," a fellow academic says. Prosecutors say Hedges confessed to spying after being presented with "compelling evidence," though Hedges has said he's innocent, the BBC reports. A UAE life sentence includes a maximum of 25 years behind bars, per the National.

Hedges' family says during the early part of his detention he didn't have access to the British Consulate, was kept in solitary and fed a "cocktail of medication" by guards, and signed a "confession" written in Arabic, which Hedges doesn't speak or read, per CNN. The ruling appears to have caught the UK off guard, as it has long considered the Emirates a close ally. "Today's verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says, with the BBC noting Hunt had been "given assurances" just over a week ago from the Emirates' crown prince that this wasn't how things would turn out. Hedges is now "absolutely terrified" and "not well," suffering from panic attacks, his wife, Daniela Tejada, tells the BBC. Hedges has already filed an appeal, and the UAE's ambassador to the UK says they're mulling clemency, per the Guardian. (A US student in Iran was also accused of spying.)

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