The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has released a British scholar, Matthew Hedges, jailed for life on allegation of spying.
The UAE president had earlier granted pardon to Hedges as part of a mass clemency of more than 700 prisoners to mark the country’s National Day, according to a statement by the state.
The pardon was announced following a request for clemency after showing a video of him purportedly confessing to membership of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service.
The case has strained ties between the long-time allies, leading London to issue a forceful diplomatic response after last week’s verdict was handed down, with a warning that it could hurt relations.
The pardon was immediately effected.
31-year-old Hedges, a doctoral student at Durham University held for more than six months, will be allowed to leave the country “once formalities are completed,” the statement said.
A UAE official later said Hedges lad been freed.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the move, which he described as “fantastic news”.
“Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.”
Hunt said it was also a “bittersweet moment” because he was thinking about innocent people still detained in Iran, the arch-foe of Abu Dhabi.
“Justice won’t be truly done until they too are safely home,” he said.
Hedge’s wife, Daniela Tejada said his family was “elated” over the news.
Tejada has said her husband was kept in solitary confinement for more than five months and the evidence presented against him consisted of notes from his dissertation research.
Last week’s hearing lasted less than five minutes, she said.
“The presidential pardon for Matt is the best news we could have received. Our six-plus months of nightmare are finally over,” Tejada said.
The UAE on Friday, had signaled that it was working on an “amicable solution” to the case after Prime Minister Theresa May had described last week’s sentence as deeply disappointing.
Hedges has been held since May 5, when he was arrested at Dubai International Airport after a two-week research visit.
The UAE’s Ambassador to the UK has disputed the account, saying the case was “extremely serious” and there had not been a “five minute show trial.”
Minutes before the pardon was announced, a UAE government spokesman showed journalists a video of Hedges purporting to confess to belonging to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and researching which military systems the UAE was buying.
In the alleged video, which was sometimes inaudible and shown with subtitles that could not be independently verified, Hedges appeared to say he approached sources as a doctoral student.
The spokesman, Jaber al-Lamki, said Hedges was “100 per cent a secret service operative” and aimed “to steal the UAE’s sensitive national secrets for his paymasters”, but did not take questions on the case.
According to him, Hedges aimed to gather information on government figures including “members of the UAE’s ruling families and their networks” and economic data related to strategic firms.
Hedges had built an extensive network of contacts while working with Dubai’s Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), then returned to the UAE “on assignment as an undercover student on research trip”, Lamki said.
Hedges’ family and colleagues have cast him as a talented researcher who fell foul of the UAE security and justice system.
His dissertation research focused on security structures, tribalism and the consolidation of political power in Abu Dhabi, which are considered sensitive topics in the UAE, they said.