LONDON (AP) — Academic Matthew Hedges arrived back in Britain Tuesday after being pardoned and released by the United Arab Emirates from a spying conviction, ending an ordeal that had strained relations between the U.K. and an important Gulf ally.
Hedges’ family said he landed at London’s Heathrow Airport in the morning.
In a statement, the 31-year-old Durham University graduate student thanked supporters, British officials and his wife Daniela Tejada for securing his release.
“She is so brave and strong, seeing her and my family after this ordeal is the best thing that could have happened. I thank you all once again, this is very surreal,” he said.
Hedges was arrested at Dubai airport in May after a research trip to the UAE and accused of espionage. Last week he was sentenced to life in prison, sparking a diplomatic dispute between the UAE and Britain.
On Monday Emirati officials said Hedges had been pardoned, while still asserting that he had spied for MI6, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency. Officials even showed reporters short video clips of Hedges purportedly acknowledging his intelligence work.
“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was a 100-percent a full-time secret service operative,” said Jaber al-Lamki, an official with the UAE’s National Media Council.
Supporters say Hedges was in the UAE as part of research for his doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies.
British officials have not officially denied the spying allegation, saying they do not comment on intelligence matters. But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the U.K. has seen “no evidence” for the charge.
Tejada, who had campaigned for months for her husband’s release, said the family was “overjoyed and exhausted.”
“I hope you can all understand that Matt and I, as well as his family, really need some time to process everything that we have been through,” she said. “No one should ever have to go through what he did and it will take him time to heal and recover. He is very overwhelmed.
“To say we are happy is an understatement.”