LONDON — The ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in London said Friday his government is studying whether to grant clemency to a convicted British academic sentenced to life in prison for espionage.
Ambassador Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui said that academic Matthew Hedges' family has requested clemency and the government is considering it.
He said the espionage case against the 31-year-old Hedges "was an extremely serious case" and that he had been convicted based on "compelling evidence" after a full and fair judicial process.
"The crimes Mr. Hedges was accused of are extremely serious. For the UAE, like all countries, protecting our national security must be our first priority," he said.
The ambassador denied claims that Hedges received only a brief court hearing before being convicted on very serious charges and said the British academic had proper legal representation in court.
Hedges' wife, Daniela Tejada, issued a statement challenging the ambassador's claim that her husband has been treated fairly. She said he had been held in solitary confinement for more than five months without being charged or given access to a lawyer.
"The judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared," she said.
"We have asked for clemency, we will wait to see what happens."
The ambassador said he has met with British officials to discuss the case, which has threatened close ties between the two friendly countries.
Hedges is a Ph.D. student who was arrested May 5 at Dubai Airport after a research trip to the UAE.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in the UAE who is well-connected to Emirati officials, said he believes the government "must" have credible evidence against Hedges.
"I think what they have probably against him is that he does work for a government, with probably name tag, with ranking, with evidence," he said.
He said some sort of pardon is possible and that the case is unlikely to damage the "hugely important mutually beneficial relationship" between the UAE and Britain.
The UAE is strategically located on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and the British military trains with UAE troops. The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are home to large numbers of British nationals who work in areas ranging from finance to sports, and thousands of tourists visit the country each year, attracted by sunny beaches, luxury hotels and theme parks.
Ties also include lucrative defense contracts that are important to U.K. companies.