A British student who was sentenced by the UAE to life in prison for allegedly being a spy says he was drugged in prison, forced to sign a false confession, and was bribed to betray his country.
Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student in Middle Eastern studies at Durham University, was pardoned by the UAE in November after being detained at Dubai Airport in May.
Both Hedges and the UK government deny that Hedges has worked as a spy or for MI6. And in an interview with British newspaper The Times after his return to the UK, Hedges said that he only gave the confession that his interrogators demanded after he was repeatedly threatened.
“After all that pressure, I said, ‘OK, fine, whatever, yeah sure,” he said.
He said he then felt more afraid: “I was so scared and on edge, because I’d started the lie.”
Hedges said that the interrogation, where UAE agents repeatedly accused him of working for MI6 and demanded to know more about his PhD thesis, left him having “panic attacks for two or three days in a row.”
He said that his interrogators offered him a bargain if he agreed to become a double agent and steal documents from the UK’s Foreign Office.
“I started having a panic attack, I was like ‘How am I supposed to get this information?'”
He said that they threatened: “We will take you to an overseas military base where you’ll be kept in a prison and you’ll be beaten and tortured and you’ll never see the daylight again.”
Hedges also said that he was put on a cocktail of Xanax, Valium, and benzodiazepine after his wife, Daniela Tejada, told the UAE authorities that he had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
But doctors say that that is an alarming situation, according to The Times. He was forced to go cold turkey during a stay in a hospital and appeared in court in his withdrawn state. Hedges said that one doctor told him “he was surprised that I was still able to talk.”
He said that he chose to sleep in darkness for up to 23 hours a day after suffering migraines from the fluorescent lights, that he slept on the floor for weeks, and that made himself vomit three times a day to relieve stress.
Hedges said that he was approached by 10 Emirati officials in Dubai airport in May after having coffee with his mother. He says the officials took out a blindfold and handcuffs.
He said he was detained in an interrogation room in a state security office in the Al Muroor police station, where interrogation sessions could last up to 15 hours and sometimes involved him being made to stand in ankle cuffs.
“I was never physically tortured, but it was psychological, and it felt like torture,” Hedges said.
Emirati officials showed clips at a news conference in which Hedges reportedly appears to confess to being a captain in MI6 and discuss his research related to the British spy agency. Journalists were not allowed to record or publish the videos.