Matthew Hedges: UAE interrogation felt like ‘psychological torture’

British academic Matthew Hedges with his wife Credit: Daniela Tejada/PA

A British academic who was accused of spying and held in solitary confinement in the United Arab Emirates for nearly six months has told how his ordeal at the hands of interrogators felt like psychological “torture”.

Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Gulf state after being accused of working for MI6, before being pardoned by the nation’s president days later.

Now back home in the UK with wife Daniela Tejada, the Durham University PhD student has spoken about his experience, claiming “aggressive” interrogators left him “so scared and on edge”.

“I was never physically tortured, but it was psychological, and it felt like torture,” he said in an interview with The Times.

According to the paper, Mr Hedges was questioned for up to 15 hours a day and was forced to wear ankle cuffs.

He was offered a favourable bargain if he turned double agent and stole documents from the Foreign Office, the paper added.

“They started getting more and more aggressive and I’d have panic attacks for two or three days in a row,” Mr Hedges said.

“After all that pressure, I said OK fine, whatever, yeah sure.”

The 31-year-old is also said to have been given a cocktail of Xanax, Valium and benzodiazepine after he begged to be given medicine for his depression and anxiety.

He is reported to have been forced to go “cold turkey” from the drugs during a stint in hospital.

Mr Hedges, originally from Exeter, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave on May 5.

His wife mounted a campaign to free her husband and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt personally discussed the case with UAE leaders.

He was freed last month but officials persisted in calling him an MI6 spy – a claim denied by family and colleagues.

An official told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Mr Hedges was “100% a full-time secret service operative” who was in the country “to steal the UAE’s sensitive security national secrets for his paymasters”.

He said the Briton’s pardon came in response to a letter from his family appealing for clemency and due to the historical close ties between the UK and the UAE.

The UK takes a “neither confirm nor deny” approach to allegations of intelligence service membership, but Mr Hunt previously said he had seen “absolutely no evidence” to suggest Mr Hedges was a spy.

Earlier this week, the head of MI6 said he was “perplexed” by Mr Hedges’s jailing and said there would be “frank conversations” with the UAE.

Mr Hedges said the support he had received for his case had been “amazing”.