British citizen sentenced to life in prison for spying has been 'treated fairly and in accordance with UAE constitution
UAE Government: powerful and compelling evidence of Matthew Hedges' guilt
The evidence presented in court against Matthew Hedges was “powerful and compelling”, an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation has said in a statement following the sentencing of the British citizen to life in prison for spying on the UAE.
Abdullah Al Naqbi, Head of the Department of Legal Affairs at the ministry, said on Thursday that, contrary to media reports, Hedges was treated fairly and in accordance with the UAE’s constitution.
"The UAE respects the rule of law and is committed to upholding the highest judicial standards. Like all countries with an independent judiciary it is vital that the government does not attempt to interfere in court cases,” he said.
“We cannot give assurances to other countries about the outcome of trials.”
Hedges, a student at Durham University in the UK, was convicted by the Federal Court of Appeal on Wednesday for attempting to procure sensitive information during a trip to the Emirates this year.
Mr Al Naqbi said that Hedges was given access to medical and psychological care throughout his detention and trial and that members of his family and staff from the British embassy were allowed to see him.
"The case against Mr Hedges was thoroughly investigated by the public prosecutor. Compelling and powerful evidence was presented in court. That included information extracted from his personal electronic devices by expert forensic analysis techniques; evidence provided by UAE intelligence Agencies; witness testaments and Mr Hedges' own confession,” Mr Al Naqbi said in a statement carried by state news agency, Wam.
He said the case was heard by three judges in the security division of the Higher Federal Court, meeting a total of four times.
In the first session, held on October 3, Hedges was asked whether he had proper representation and was offered the services of a court-appointed lawyer, which he accepted. He was also provided with a translator during investigations and throughout his trial — as court proceedings in the UAE are conducted in Arabic.
Mr Al Naqbi denied that Hedges was asked to sign documents he did not understand.
Two more hearings were held on October 10 and 24 with the final session held on Wednesday to announce a verdict and pass the life in prison sentence.
“The judges had made this clear in their previous session. It is normal and to be expected that such hearings are brief,” Mr Al Naqbi said.
"The crimes Mr Hedges’ was accused of are extremely serious. For the UAE, like all countries, protecting our national security must be our first priority.”
He reiterated that Hedges has 30 days to appeal the decision, adding that families also have the right to appeal for Presidential Clemency on behalf of convicted relatives. The case has become a political issue in the UK, with both Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt making Hedges' situation a matter for diplomatic relations.
"The UAE is determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally," Mr Al Naqbi said. "Officials from both countries have discussed the matter regularly over recent months. Both sides hope to find an amicable solution to the Matthew Hedges case."
On Thursday, Mr Hunt said he believes and trusts that Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation is "working hard to resolve the situation as quickly as possible".
The Federal Court of Appeal convicted Hedges of spying on the UAE and sentenced him to life in prison to be followed by deportation.
The UAE Attorney General, Dr Hamad Al Shamsi, had said the sentence should not be viewed as a “final” judgment, however, and that the PhD student was entitled to appeal within a month.
Hedges was first arrested at Dubai International Airport in May after an Emirati man told police he had been asking for sensitive information.
Prosecutors said he had been trying to secure confidential information to pass on to a foreign state — although they did not disclose which country.
Hedges appeared in court to hear his sentence accompanied by his wife, Daniele Tejada, and officials from the British Embassy.
The court ruled that his devices — thought to be his computers and phone — as well as his research, would be confiscated and that he had the right to appeal within 30 days.
Dr Al Shamsi said that during questioning, Mr Hedges had admitted to the claims against him, which were "identical to evidence and information gained from his own electronic devices and investigations conducted by the UAE’s security agencies".
Ms Tejada has previously denied the charges against her husband in an interview with The Sunday Times.
“Matt is not guilty of what he is being charged with,” she said.
Ms Tejada said Hedges, whose family used to live in Dubai, was “fascinated by Emirati security and threw himself into his research”, which focused on relationships between different tribes in the UAE.