Pardoned academic welcomed back to UK by wife, family

Pardoned academic welcomed back to UK by wife, family
Courtesy of the Hedges Family via CNN
Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela Tejada.

British academic Matthew Hedges has thanked his wife for her “brave and strong” support following his arrival back in London, Tuesday, a day after he was released from custody in the United Arab Emirates.

Hedges, 31, who had been sentenced to life in prison for spying, was granted a presidential pardon on Monday following an intense lobbying effort by the British government. His case drew international condemnation amid heightened media coverage.

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 spent almost six months in solitary confinement.

In a statement Tuesday, he thanked his wife, Daniela Tejada, his family, and the British government for their efforts in ensuring his release.

“I have not seen or read much of what has been written over the past few days, but Dani tells me the support has been incredible. Thank you so much to the British Embassy and the FCO for their efforts in ensuring I arrived safely back home,” said Hedges.

“I could not have done this without Daniela, I hear her face is everywhere! She is so brave and strong, seeing her and my family after this ordeal is the best thing that could have happened. I thank you all once again, this is very surreal.”

Daniela Tejada said that she was “overjoyed” to have her husband back in the UK.

“I am so happy to have my Matt home! Thank you once again for the overwhelming support we have received, especially from the embassy in the UAE and the Foreign Office in ensuring that Matt was safely returned home. We are overjoyed and exhausted!

Despite receiving a presidential pardon, the UAE has continued to allege that Hedges was a spy recruited by British intelligence. At a press conference, Monday, UAE authorities showed journalists a video which purportedly showed Hedges’ confession.

The UK authorities have repeatedly denied the claims.

UK ‘deeply perplexed’ how this happened

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.”

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that the government “welcomed” Hedges’ pardon although “we didn’t agree with the charges.”

“But we are grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue,” the spokesman added.

Hunt told reporters on Monday that Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed and its foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, recognized “the importance of the strategic relationship between the UK and the UAE” and worked “very, very hard to try and resolve this situation.”

However, Hunt added: “But, the truth is that we should have never have got to here and we are deeply perplexed as to how it happened.”

The foreign secretary reiterated that the UK had not seen any evidence to support the spy accusations against Hedges.

Detained in Dubai — a UK-based legal advice group — said that while it was good news that Hedges has been released, it was “far from an optimal resolution.”

Chief Executive Radha Stirling said in a statement: “Matthew should never have been arrested; never should have been forced to sign a false confession in Arabic; never should have been locked up in solitary confinement for six months … and most certainly never should have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The pardon does not undo any of that, and indeed, Matthew’s innocence has not been admitted by the UAE; the wrongs done to him have not been acknowledged,” she added.