The student’s conviction for spying highlights the contrast between the UAE’s open image and its conservative policies.
British academic Matthew Hedges has accused investigators from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of subjecting him to psychological torture and forcing him to give a false confession that he is an agent of the British spy agency, MI6.
In an interview with The Times of London, Hedges said that during his more than six months of imprisonment, he suffered sleep deprivation and was forced-fed a combination of tranquilisers and stimulants by his Emirati captors.
“They started getting more and more aggressive and I’d have panic attacks for two or three days in a row. After all that pressure, I said: ‘OK, fine, whatever, yeah, sure.'”
Hedges also revealed that at one point during the interrogation, he was offered to become a double-agent for the UAE, even as he was forced to stand for the whole day in ankle cuffs and was interrogated for as long as 15 hours.
“I was so scared and on edge,” Hedges said, adding that he was threatened to be sent to a military base to be tortured.
Hedges said he had already suffered from anxiety and depression before his arrest, and his experience under Emirati detention pushed him to the edge.
He also said that he is suffering from “severe withdrawal symptoms” since coming back to the United Kingdom.
Hedges was deported to Britain on November 27, after being pardoned and released by the UAE in an espionage case, ending an ordeal that had strained relations between the two countries.
He was arrested at Dubai airport in May after a research trip to the UAE on the charge of spying. On November 21, he was sentenced to life in prison, escalating a diplomatic tussle between the UAE and Britain.
Following diplomatic pressure from the UK, Emirati officials had shown reporters in Abu Dhabi short video clips of Hedges purportedly acknowledging his intelligence work.
“He was a part-time PhD researcher, a part-time businessman, but he was 100-percent a full-time secret service operative,” said Jaber al-Lamki, an official with the UAE’s National Media Council.
Supporters said Hedges was in the UAE as part of the research for his doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies.
British officials have not officially denied the spying allegation, saying they do not comment on intelligence matters.
But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the UK has seen “no evidence” for the charge.
Meanwhile, Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada claimed that the Foreign Office refused to share information about her husband for six weeks following his disappearance.
She said it took her almost three weeks of daily phone calls to secure a meeting with the British officials to discuss his arrest.