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UAE court sentences British academic to life for spying

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A United Arab Emirates court on Wednesday sentenced British student Matthew Hedges to life in jail after convicting him of spying.

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A spokesperson for the British academic’s family said Hedges was sentenced Wednesday after a hearing that “lasted less than five minutes”. His lawyer was not present for the hearing, the spokesman added.

Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student at Durham University, has been held in the UAE since May 5, when he was arrested at Dubai airport after a two-week research visit. He was working on his doctoral thesis on the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings.

The ruling came as Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was visiting France amid calls by human rights groups for Paris to raise concerns over war violations in Yemen. The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Responding to the sentencing, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said he was "deeply shocked and disappointed" by the verdict, adding that he had personally raised the case at the highest levels of the UAE government and that the verdict would hurt relations.

He said the handling of the case by Emirati authorities would have repercussions on relations between the two countries.

UAE jails UK acdemic: "It reveals an atmosphere of fear"

Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May said, "We are deeply disappointed and concerned at today's verdict. ... We are raising it with the Emirati authorities at the highest level."

Britain had until now been reticent over the case, citing ongoing legal proceedings. Officials have declined to comment on intelligence matters, in keeping with government policy.

‘In complete shock’

Hedges' wife Daniela Tejada, who was in court, said she was in "complete shock."

"Matthew is innocent," she said. "The Foreign Office know this and have made it clear to the UAE authorities that Matthew is not a spy for them."

Urging the British government to make a stand for him, she added: "I am very scared for Matt. I don't know where they are taking him or what will happen now. Our nightmare has gotten even worse."

A life sentence for a non-Emirati entails a maximum of 25 years in jail and is followed by deportation, according to The National. The court ruled that his devices and research would be confiscated, the newspaper reported.

Emirati authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hedges was released on bail in late October, but had been held in solitary confinement for five months before that, his family said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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