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UPDATE – UK 'shocked' by UAE life sentence for student

UPDATES WITH MORE DETALS

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) – The life sentence handed to a British academic, who was accused of spying for the U.K. in the United Arab Emirates, is “shocking,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Wednesday.

“I am deeply shocked and disappointed by the verdict today,” Hunt said.

Matthew Hedges, 31, a PhD student from Durham University, has been in a UAE prison for more than six months after he was arrested while leaving the country.

On Wednesday, Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court sentenced the British academic to life in prison after convicting him of spying and providing foreign parties with sensitive information, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Al-Ain website reported on Wednesday.

Hedges was arrested at the Dubai International Airport in May before boarding a flight to the U.K. after a two-week working visit to the UAE, according to the website.

He worked on the effects of Arab Spring on the UAE’s foreign policies as a subject for a thesis, according to the local media reports.

In October, the Emirati authorities referred Hedges to Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court on charges of “passing on sensitive military, political and economic information to a foreign entity”.

“I have personally raised the case of Matthew Hedges at the highest levels of the UAE government, including during my visit to Abu Dhabi on 12 November,” Hunt said in a statement.

Reminding that he spoke of the case with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Hunt said “today’s verdict is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances.”

Hunt said the UK’s consular officials “have been in close contact with Matthew Hedges and his family.”

“We will continue to do everything possible to support him.”

Hunt said he has “repeatedly made clear that the handling of this case by the UAE authorities will have repercussions for the relationship between our two countries, which has to be built on trust.”

“I regret the fact that we have reached this position and I urge the UAE to reconsider,” he added.

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