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Wife of British researcher jailed for life in UAE 'remains hopeful' he'll be released

“Until I have him safe, back home with me, I will not rest,” Daniela Tejada said.

Daniela Tejada speaks about her husband Matthew Hedges
Daniela Tejada speaks about her husband Matthew Hedges
Image: David Mirzoeff/PA Images

THE WIFE OF a British researcher sentenced to life in prison in the United Arab Emirates on espionage charges told AFP she was cautiously optimistic he could be freed.

Daniela Tejada said the family of her husband Matt Hedges had submitted a letter asking for clemency from UAE authorities on Wednesday, just hours after he received the jail term.

The country’s ambassador to Britain said Friday the authorities were reviewing the request, while insisting the government “does not dictate verdicts” to the courts.

“I want to remain hopeful,” Tejada said in an interview in London. “It’s hard to do so after all of our hopes have been shattered repeatedly for six months.

“I hope that the UAE… see that this is an innocent man, and that he deserves that clemency.”

Tejada, who yesterday met Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt after criticising British efforts at securing Hedges’s release, vowed she would keep fighting no matter what.

The 27-year-old added that the decision to seek clemency, with its implied admission of guilt, appeared the best option available.

“I know in the bottom of my heart that Matt is innocent, but even if it takes me subjugating myself to the UAE I will, because I have the conviction that Matt deserves his freedom,” Tejada said.

“Until I have him safe, back home with me, I will not rest.”

‘Absolutely terrified’

Hedges, 31, was detained in Dubai on 5 May while researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

After months of uncertainty the scholar was released on bail on 29 October, prompting hopes of his imminent release.

But his family and British officials were left stunned by Wednesday’s ruling, in a country considered a strategic Middle East ally supplied with British arms.

Amid increased diplomatic pressure, the UAE foreign ministry said Thursday it wanted an “amicable solution”.

Tejada hopes that could mean her husband is released in the coming weeks.

“We’ve had so many deadlines but Christmas definitely is something we’re all hoping for,” she said. “It would really mean the world to have him back by then.”

Tejada spoke to her husband for around five minutes Thursday, and said he was not allowed to reveal where he was being held and “didn’t sound well”.

“He’s absolutely terrified,” she added, noting Hedges has suffered from anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

“Until he receives adequate medical treatment and personal support, he will not be OK and I’m very concerned about that because… he has experienced suicidal thoughts during his detention.

“I just wish I could be there to truly just hold him and tell him ‘it’s going to be OK.’”

‘A dark cloud’

The UAE envoy in London, Sulaiman Hamid al-Mazroui, dismissed criticism of the case’s handling, saying three judges had evaluated “compelling evidence” in three hearings over a month-long period.

He insisted that genuine researchers were able to visit his country “freely”.

But Tejada said Hedges was denied due process from the outset.

She said he had been held in solitary confinement and initially not given a lawyer or adequate consular access, and was subjected to “intense interrogations” lasting up to 15 hours.

“The fact that he was held in such conditions, and that he was subject to such mistreatment, already breaches every due process standard,” Tejada said.

Colombia-born Tejada, who married Hedges in January last year after the couple began dating in 2011, said she has been heartened by the “overwhelming demonstration of support in the UK and abroad”.

An online petition she launched following the sentencing has already garnered more than 200,000 signatures.

Meanwhile more than 100 academics last month signed an open letter expressing their concern over the case.

Tejada revealed she has also been getting support from Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains held in jail in Iran on sedition charges.

“(They) have been an inspiration for me — just the strength of their relationship and resilience and how brave they’ve been,” she said.

“I’m a firm believer that every sky has a dark cloud that has to pass at some point.”

 © – AFP 2018  

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