A British academic accused of espionage by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reveals he went through scarring ‘psychological torture’ during his near-six-month stay in solitary confinement.
Matthew Hedges was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Gulf state last month, after security services believed he was an MI6 spy.
The Durham University student was originally arrested on May 5 in Dubai, as he made his way home from a two-week research trip for his PhD thesis on security measures in the area.
However, pardoned by the nation’s president just days after his damning sentence, the 31-year-old has now returned to the UK and broken his silence over his horrifying months in captivity.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Hedges revealed he was force-fed drugs and isolated in darkness for up to 23 hours per-day.
He also said he was forced to stand up shackled by the ankles in his Abu Dhabi prison cell, while being interrogated for up to 15 hours at a time.
The actions of his “aggressive” interrogators left him “so scared and on edge”, Mr Hedges says.
Now back in the UK with his wife Daniela Tejada, Mr Hedges said: “I was never physically tortured, but it was psychological, and it felt like torture."
Mr Hedges also claims he was offered a plea-bargain from UAE authorities, if he agreed to act as a double agent and steal documents from the Foreign Office.
"They started getting more and more aggressive and I’d have panic attacks for two or three days in a row," Mr Hedges said.
"After all that pressure, I said OK fine, whatever, yeah sure."
Matthew Hedges arrives home in UK after being freed from UAE prison for ‘spying’
Exeter-born Hedges is also said to have been given a cocktail of Xanax, Valium and benzodiazepine after he begged to be given medicine for his depression and anxiety.
He is reported to have been forced to go "cold turkey" from the drugs during a stay in hospital.
Mr Hedges’ wife mounted a campaign to free her husband, leading Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to personally discuss the case with UAE leaders.
He was freed last month but officials persisted in calling him an MI6 spy – a claim denied by family and colleagues.
An official told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Mr Hedges was "100% a full-time secret service operative" who was in the country "to steal the UAE’s sensitive security national secrets for his paymasters".
He said the Briton’s pardon came in response to a letter from his family appealing for clemency and due to the historical close ties between the UK and the UAE.
The UK takes a "neither confirm nor deny" approach to allegations of intelligence service membership, but Mr Hunt previously said he had seen "absolutely no evidence" to suggest Mr Hedges was a spy.
Earlier this week, the head of MI6 said he was "perplexed" by Mr Hedges’ jailing and said there would be "frank conversations" with the UAE.
Mr Hedges said the support he had received for his case had been "amazing".
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