There is “compelling and powerful” evidence to support the prosecution of British academic Matthew Hedges for spying, the UAE government has said.
The justification comes amid an outcry over Mr Hedges’ sentence of life imprisonment, as the 31-year-old PhD student faces life behind bars after being convicted of espionage.
Mr Hedges’ wife has told LBC that her husband’s panic attacks have become worse since he was handed the sentence and has met with the UK Government to discuss efforts to free him.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is leading efforts to apply diplomatic pressure on the country and on Thursday said he had a “constructive conversation” with his opposite number, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed.
But a statement by Abdulla Al Naqbi, head of the Department of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the case had been “thoroughly investigated” and warned the government “does not attempt to interfere in court cases”.
The frank statement said: “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.
“We cannot give assurances to other countries about the outcome of trials.”
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Mr Al Naqbi defended the court’s decision, stressing the crimes Mr Hedges is accused of are “extremely serious” and protecting the UAE’s national interests “must be our first priority”.
“The case against Hedges was thoroughly investigated by the public prosecutor,” the statement said, adding: “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 Hedges’ own confession.”
The statement rejected claims that Mr Hedges was forced to sign a document in Arabic that has been used as the “confession” and also denied that he had been mistreated while held in custody.
A family representative said Mr Hedges was held in solitary confinement for more than five-and-a-half months, during which his “mental and physical health seriously deteriorated”.
It added: “Contrary to media reports, Matthew Hedges has been treated fairly and according to the constitution of the UAE. We are proud to have a system of justice that gives everyone the right to a fair trial.”
Mr Hedges, a Middle Eastern studies specialist, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on May 5.
He was handed the sentence during a five-minute hearing at an Abu Dhabi court on Wednesday, prompting a furious response.
Mr Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and on Thursday his wife started a petition on Change.org which has already gathered more than 150,000 signatures.
She wrote: “Matthew may be able appeal his sentence in one month’s time. Before then I am begging as many people as possible to back my petition calling on the British Government to do everything in their power to ensure the UAE let my husband come home.”