British scholar Matthew Hedges
British scholar Matthew Hedges

Hedges took advantage of openness granted to academic researchers: UAE

ANI | Updated: Nov 26, 2018 20:23 IST

Abu Dhabi [UAE], Nov 26 (ANI): United Arab Emirates government on Monday said that British scholar Matthew Hedges took "advantage of the openness granted to academic researchers" in the Gulf nation.
UAE on Monday pardoned Hedges, who was charged with espionage, along with 785 prisoners across the country to mark the 47th anniversary of the Gulf nation.
Hedges, a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at the UK's Durham University, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on charges of espionage.
In an official statement, the UAE said that Hedges was granted clemency in response to a letter from his family requesting a pardon for the scholar. Hedges was also set free in consideration of the historical relationship and close ties between the UAE and the United Kingdom.
"Hedges will be permitted to leave the country once the formalities are completed," the official statement reads, which was issued after the report of Hedges' release.
Hedges was arrested by the UAE authorities on May 5 this year when he was departing from Dubai airport following a research trip. He had been previously detained by the UAE in solitary confinement on spying charges, following which he was granted bail earlier this year.
Terming Hedges' objectives as 'threat to national security', UAE asserted that the information British scholar collected went far beyond standard academic practice.
The statement which was delivered by Executive Director of Strategic and Media Communications Jaber Al Lamki stated that British researcher Hedges was "imprisoned and sentenced on the charges of espionage against the UAE on behalf of a foreign agency."
UAE further revealed that Hedges confessed to being a spy for a foreign intelligence service. He also confirmed that he had collected sensitive and classified information about the UAE for that agency.
According to the statement, Hedges aimed to "gather classified information on the UAE's military capabilities, including weaponry and procurement decisions, to gather sensitive economic data on the country's key firms and key industries, along with strategic planning information, to gather sensitive information on key government figures, including members of the UAE's ruling families and their networks, as well as, to gather classified information on the UAE's military and political role in Yemen."
Al Lamki also revealed that Hedges used dual identity. "In one he was Matthew Hedges, the Ph.D. researcher. In another, he was Matthew Hedges, the businessman. He was a part-time Ph.D. researcher, part-time businessman, but primarily he was 100 per cent a full-time secret service operative," the statement read.
According to the UAE, Hedges worked for a strategy and security consultancy - the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, known as INEGMA-who specialized in military and security conferences during his early days in the country through which he built up an extensive network of contacts.
Al Lamki also stated that the investigation shows that his extensive network of contacts led to his recruitment, "following which he returned to UAE for an assignment, undercover as a student on a research trip." Following a tip-off to the Attorney General's office regarding his suspicious activities, an investigation team was established to look into these serious claims.
"Our investigators were determined to ensure that every lead was followed, and every rule and the internal process was strictly adhered to. As the investigation progressed, the evidence collected confirmed the initial tip-off. Hedges was duly arrested on 5th of May 2018 at Dubai International Airport as he was planning to depart the country, along with the information he had collected," the Executive Director of Strategic and Media Communications stated.
In response to the reports stating the unlawful treatment of the British Scholar, Al Lamki emphasised that Hedges was accorded his full rights as a defendant, as per the UAE law. "He was provided with full medical care, which included twice-weekly checkups by a doctor. He was also assigned a defence lawyer when the government realised that he could not afford one and also provided him with a translator," he was further quoted having said in the statement.
The statement also revealed that Hedges made as many as 27 calls to immediate family members during the pre-trial stage.
Addressing the sensitivity of the case and the charges, Al Lamki said, "The trial was held behind closed doors due to the sensitivity of the evidence presented. But the defendant's family and embassy staff were present at all hearings. Hedges' trial took place over 4 full sessions in court. Last Wednesday's hearing was a sentencing hearing and not part of the trial itself."
Al Lamki stated that like every nation, UAE has the right to protect itself from external threats and asserted that the sentence given to Matthew Hedges "is fair, considering the serious crime he committed." (ANI)