Matthew Hedges

The United Arab Emirates has pardoned and released with immediate effect British academic Matthew Hedges, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying in the country.

Hedges was sentenced on Thursday after a five-minute hearing after a family spokeswoman said Hedges was forced to sign a confession in Arabic, a language Hedges does not read nor speak.

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The Briton, who is a specialist in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Durham, was arrested on May 5 at Dubai airport, following a research trip. He went on to spend almost six months in solitary confinement.

Hedges was granted a presidential pardon following a request for clemency from his family, the UAE government said in a statement. He is one of 785 prisoners being pardoned as part of the UAE’s forthcoming national day celebration on December 2.

His wife, Daniela Tejada, said in a statement that Hedges’ pardon was “the best news we could have received.”

“Our six-plus months of nightmare are finally over and to say we are elated is an understatement.

“That he is returning home to me and the rest of his family is much more than I was ever expecting to happen this week,” Tejada said.

In a statement on Monday, UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said that Hedges pardon will allow both sides “to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the UAE UK bi-lateral relationship and its importance to the international community.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a tweet that his country was grateful to the UAE government for resolving the issue speedily, “although we didn’t agree on the charges.”