UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, pictured, was contacted by British diplomat Jeremy Hunt about the Matthew Hedges spying case. Photo by Andre Pain/EPA-EFE
Nov. 21 (UPI) -- British doctoral student Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates for spying.
The student moved to the UAE to conduct research into Dubai's foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011, broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.
Hedges was accused of spying for Britain, jeopardizing the military, political and economic security of the state, UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said. He was arrested as he attempted to leave the country in May and kept in solitary confinement for five months. He wasn't formally charged until last month.
Hedges' family members told The Independent the 31-year-old Durham University graduate student was sentenced without the aid of an attorney.
"I am in complete shock and I don't know what to do," Daniela Tejada, Hedges' wife, said after the verdict and sentence, The Guardian reported. "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."
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had personally talked to the UAE government to say Hedges was not an operative for London. Among those he spoke with were Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed.
"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, which has to be built on trust," Hunt said. "I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider."