Matthew Hedges: I'm determined to clear my name after UAE ordeal
Matthew Hedges has said he is determined to clear his name, claiming he was psychologically tortured into making a false confession to spying in the United Arab Emirates.
In his first broadcast interview since returning to the UK, the PhD student said he was made to stand in shackles after protesting his innocence.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that panic led him to confess to being a MI6 agent after a week of increasing psychological pressure from his interrogators.
“I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “They even said that if you admit things and you tell us what we want to hear, we will make it easier for you.”
Speaking alongside his wife, Daniela Tejada, Hedges, 31, said that in the new year he would start a campaign to be cleared of the spying charges for which he was pardoned last month.
He said he had drawn strength from his wife’s campaign to get him released. “You’ve seen what Dani’s been doing. How strong she is. That gives me the courage to move forward and to keep not only fighting for my own case, but try to raise similar issues for other people in those situations, of which there are many.”
Hedges said he was innocently gathering information in the UAE as part of his academic research. “I didn’t have any secret information. It is all opensource information. It has happened to multiple Emirate academics who are imprisoned for years. To that extent I was lucky.”
Tejada urged the Foreign Office to change the way it handled such cases after she was denied information about her husband’s plight.
She said: “They were unable or unwilling to share information with me about Matt’s whereabouts or his condition for six weeks because they didn’t have his explicit authorisation.”
She added: “They weren’t getting access to him so how could they get his explicit authorisation to share information with his next of kin? … It mustn’t happen again and people have that responsibility to demand their government to change things.”
Asked what advice he would give the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Hedges said: “I would strongly advise them to hear Dani’s experience and to maybe look at ways and means in which they could improve their work abroad.”
Hedges confirmed he was asked to act as a double agent for the UAE during his interrogation.
He said: “This was on the third or fourth day. They propositioned me to steal official documentation from the Foreign Office. I had a panic attack and said: ‘Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. I don’t work for the Foreign Office.’”
He said he had thoughts about killing himself during his seven-month confinement in the UAE. He said: “I was having quite bad panic attacks and I felt I was choking, I couldn’t breathe. And in that night I dreamt I was hanging myself in the cell.”
Describing his treatment, he said: “Whenever I was transported between different premises I was blindfolded and handcuffed. When I tried to tell the truth to the interrogators their reaction was to make me stand for the day wearing ankle cuffs.”
Asked if his treatment amounted to torture, he said: “Psychologically, correct. It felt like it. Especially with the cocktail of medication I was being given. I wasn’t able to manage my thoughts throughout the incarceration.”
Matthew Hedges with his wife, Daniela Tejada, after they were reunited following his release.