The UAE’s London ambassador has defended the trial of British academic Matthew Hedges but said his government is studying a request for clemency made by his family. 

The Gulf state claims to have "compelling and powerful" evidence against the British academic who has been jailed for life for spying. 

An Emirati law chief said the case had been "thoroughly investigated" and warned the government "does not attempt to interfere in court cases".

But the UAE ambassador in London Sulaiman Almazroui made a short statement on the case on Friday morning, during which he said relations between him and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt were "good", and he was studying a request clemency.

He said: "Matthew Hedges was not convicted after a five-minute show trial, as some have reported. Over the course of one month, three judges evaluated compelling evidence in three hearings.

"They reached their conclusions after a full and proper process. This was an extremely serious case. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood and national security must be a top priority.

"Mr Hedges’ family have made a request for clemency and the government is studying that request. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had a good conversation yesterday with our foreign minister."

He stressed the two nations’ close ties, adding: "Because of the strength of that relationship we are hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached."

"Matt was held in an undisclosed location in solitary confinement for over five months, with no charge, no lawyer and very limited consular access," she said in a statement.

"When he did receive consular access, he was not allowed to talk openly about his case and thus never received advice as to what his rights were. The judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared.

"I was in the courtroom and the hearing lasted less than five minutes. We have asked for clemency, we will wait to see what happens."

Diplomatic efforts to free the PhD student are being led by Mr Hunt amid an outcry after the 31-year-old was jailed earlier this week.

The Durham University researcher’s wife said she has won assurances from Mr Hunt that the Government is "now standing up for" her husband, after she claimed it had initially put foreign relations above his liberty.

But after a five-minute phone call with him on Thursday night, she said Mr Hedges remains in fear that he will have to serve the entirety of his sentence.

"He is not well. He mentioned that his panic attacks have become worse than they were before. However, he did say that he has access to a doctor," she told the BBC on Friday morning.

"I wasn’t allowed to know where he is, so still don’t know anything about his whereabouts, and I think he’s just absolutely terrified at the idea of having to spend the rest of his life behind bars for an offence he hasn’t committed."

On Thursday Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said he had a "constructive conversation" with his opposite number, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, tweeting: "I believe & trust he’s working hard to resolve the situation asap."

After returning to the UK on Thursday, Ms Tejada met with Mr Hunt and later said she had been assured that UK officials are doing "everything in their power" to bring her husband home.

Daniela Tejada, wife of Matthew HedgesCredit:
Paul Grover

However a frank statement by Abdulla Al Naqbi, head of the Department of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, set out the UAE’s position.

"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," the statement said.

"We cannot give assurances to other countries about the outcome of trials."

Mr Hedges’ shock sentencing during a five-minute hearing at an Abu Dhabi court on Wednesday prompted a furious response by UK officials.

Mr Hunt said he had seen "absolutely no evidence" to support prosecutors’ allegations that Mr Hedges was spying when he visited Dubai earlier this year.

He also threatened "serious diplomatic consequences" if the student, who is originally from Exeter, is not freed.

But 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.

"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 said he was provided with translators.

The minister also rejected claims that Mr Hedges had been mistreated while held in custody.

"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," it said.

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".

The UAE statement rebutted claims that the student had been denied visits by his family or British embassy staff and said he had access to medical and psychological care "throughout".

Mr Hedges, a Middle Eastern studies specialist, was arrested at Dubai Airport as he tried to leave the country on May 5.

Matthew Hedges and his wife Daniela TejadaCredit:

Professor Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said there is "no reason to believe that Matt was conducting anything other than legitimate academic research".

After a hearing in October UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said attempts had been made to address the case though "common channels", although "reluctance" of UK authorities meant it was passed to the courts.

He tweeted: "Case of Mathew Hedges extensively discussed with UK colleagues over last 5 months. Unusual & embarrassing revelations about friends & allies.

"With reluctance of UK authorities to address matter thru common channels,due legal process needs to take its course."

Mr Hedges was given 30 days to challenge the court ruling, and Ms Tejada on Thursday started a petition on which has 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."

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