LONDON (Reuters) – The wife of a British academic jailed by a UAE court on spying charges called on the Emirati authorities on Thursday to review her husband’s life sentence and set him free.
The Gulf state said Matthew Hedges had been treated “fairly” but also that it wanted an “amicable solution” in the case, which has shaken relations between two countries which are old allies.
Hedges, 31, was sentenced on Wednesday on charges of spying for the British government, in a move described as deeply disappointing by Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Matt is innocent,” Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada told Reuters. “Handing a life sentence to an innocent researcher who held the UAE in high regard speaks volumes about their lack of tolerance and respect for human life,” she added.
“They must review their sentence and release my husband, who has already had more than six months taken away from us.”
She later met Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and told reporters afterwards: “He has assured me that he and his team are doing everything in their power to get Matt free and return him home to me.”
The foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates said in a statement that Hedges “has been treated fairly and according to the constitution of the UAE”.
The ministry denied reports that Hedges had not been provided with translators while in detention, saying “it is not true that he was asked to sign documents he did not understand.”
The doctoral student at Durham University has been held since May 5, when he was arrested at Dubai International Airport after a two-week research visit.
The evidence presented against him consisted of notes from his dissertation research, his family said.
A life sentence for a non-Emirati entails a maximum of 25 years in jail followed by deportation, according to UAE state-run media.
Hunt has warned the handling of the case by Emirati authorities will have repercussions on relations between the two countries and urged the UAE to reconsider its decision.
He said he had held a contructive conversation on Thursday with his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed.
“I believe and trust he’s working hard to resolve the situation ASAP (as soon as possible),” Hunt added on Twitter.
The UAE said both sides were looking for a solution.
“The UAE is determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally,” its statement said. “Officials from both countries have discussed the matter regularly over recent months. Both sides hope to find an amicable solution to the Matthew Hedges case.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Paul Sandle and Stephen Addison; Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Peter Graff and Andrew Roche)