Durham PhD student Matthew Hedges has been sentenced to life in prison in the UAE for spying.
Hedges was found guilty of spying on behalf of the British government by a federal court in Abu Dhabi, after being charged last month. He appeared in court this morning, accompanied by his wife, Daniela Tejada, and officials from the British Embassy.
The National newspaper in the UAE has reported that his life sentence includes a maximum of 25 years in jail and is followed by deportations for non-Emiratis.
The court ruling also declared Hedges has the right to challenge the ruling with the State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court within a maximum period of 30 days.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has previously appealed for the release of Hedges, said in a statement he is 'deeply shocked' by the verdict which is 'not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom'.
Matthew's wife Daniela said she was 'very scared' for her husband. She released the following statement:
I am in complete shock and I don’t know what to do. Matthew is innocent. The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them. This whole case has been handled appallingly from the very beginning with no one taking Matthew’s case seriously. The British Government must take a stand now for Matthew, one of their citizens. They say that the UAE is an ally, but the overwhelmingly arbitrary handling of Matt’s case indicates a scarily different reality, for which Matt and I are being made to pay a devastatingly high price.
A statement from the federal court in Abu Dhabi:
"The Federal Appeals Court of Abu Dhabi sentenced Matthew Hedges, 31, to life imprisonment after being convicted of spying on the UAE and providing sensitive security and intelligence information to third parties. The court also ruled that he would be deported from the country after the execution of the sentence and would be charged the costs of the legal case. The court ordered the confiscation of all his equipment, devices, research and studies. The convicted person has the right to challenge the ruling with the State Security Department of the Federal Supreme Court within a maximum period of 30 days."
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement:
“I am deeply shocked and disappointed by the verdict today. I have personally raised the case of Matthew Hedges at the highest levels of the UAE government, including during my visit to Abu Dhabi on 12 November. On that occasion, I spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed.
Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Labour MP for City of Durham, said:
I am obviously shocked by the news of Matthew Hedges’ conviction and sentence. Currently I am in the process of liaising with Durham University and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss what might be done next, and in particular what can be done to support Matthew and his family as this very difficult time. We are also in contact with Ben Bradshaw’s office as Ben is Matthew’s MP.
Mr Hedges' case was also brought up at today's Prime Minister's Question Time.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is "deeply disappointed and concerned" about the case and said the couple's "nightmare has gotten even worse" as Foreign Secretary.
Mrs May told MPs:
The Foreign Office will remain in close contact with Matthew, his family and his lawyer.
Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Stuart Corbridge said:
We are devastated to learn that Matt Hedges has been sentenced to life in prison following his detention and trial in the United Arab Emirates.
More to follow...