UAE ‘studying’ clemency request for jailed UK academic: report

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) says it is "studying" a clemency request made on behalf of the United Kingdom academic who was sentenced to life in prison on espionage charges.

The family of Matthew Hedges, a PhD student from Durham University, appealed for clemency this week after he was sentenced to life in prison on charges of "spying for or on behalf of" the United Kingdom. 

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"Mr. Hedges’ family have made a request for clemency and the government is studying that request,” the UAE’s ambassador to London, Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui, said, according to Reuters. "We have an extremely close partnership with the UK."

"Because of the strength of that relationship, we are hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached," Almazroui added.

The statement is the strongest signal that a resolution is on the horizon in the Hedges case, which has escalated tensions between the U.K. and the UAE. Top U.K. officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May, said they were disappointed by how the UAE has treated Hedges.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reportedly said the Wednesday verdict sentencing Hedges to prison for life could harm relations between the two countries.

Hedges and his family say that he is innocent and that he was merely researching the country's security strategy.

Prosecutors in the UAE say he admitted to the charges in an Abu Dhabi court.

Hedges's family said in a statement that he was forced to sign a document in Arabic which turned out to be a confession, despite the fact that he does not speak or read the language.

“Matt was held in an undisclosed location in solitary confinement for over 5 months, with no charge, no lawyer and very limited consular access,” Hedges’s wife Daniela Tejada told Reuters.

“The judicial system in the UAE and the U.K. cannot be compared," she added. "I was in the courtroom and the hearing lasted less than 5 minutes."