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UAE Sentences British Academic to Life in Jail on Spying Charge

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A British student has been sentenced to life in jail in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spying for the UK government, with London promising "serious diplomatic consequences."

Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old student at Durham University who went to the country to research his PhD thesis, was handed the sentence at an Abu Dhabi court in a hearing that lasted less than five minutes, and with no lawyer present.

His wife Daniela Tejada, who was present at the court room, said she was in “complete shock”.

“This has been the worst six months of my life, let alone for Matt who was shaking when he heard the verdict,” she said in a statement. “The UAE authorities should feel ashamed for such an obvious injustice. Our nightmare has gotten even worse.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the verdict. “We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level,” she told parliament. 

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been involved with the case over the past few months, said: “Today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom. I have repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries.”

He later tweeted: "We have seen no evidence to back up charges against him ... UAE claim to be friend & ally of the UK so there will be serious diplomatic consequences. Unacceptable."

Hedges was detained in May at Dubai airport as he was leaving the country following a research trip, and held in solitary confinement for five months. During that time he was interrogated without a lawyer or consular access. A representative for the family said that his mental and physical health has “seriously deteriorated” during his detention.

UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said Hedges was accused of “spying for a foreign country, jeopardizing the military, political and economic security of the state”.

Hunt said previously the UK government was “very worried” by the case and he has personally spoken with the UAE foreign minister twice about it.

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“We are very concerned to make sure there is proper due process, the court system is fair and that Matthew Hedges is treated properly and humanely and that we get a just outcome,” the foreign secretary said in October.

Middle East minister Alistair Burt also travelled to the UAE to intervene on his behalf.

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team

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