Matthew Hedges has spent the last seven months in prison in the United Arab Emirates and now he faces the prospect of staying there forever.

The British PhD student was given a life sentence for spying on Wednesday by Abu Dhabi's Federal Court of Appeals. 

Hedges was studying for a doctorate on the Gulf country's foreign and security policies at the time of his arrest. 

The Emiratis say Hedges made a full confession, but his family says he did not understand the document he signed, which was written in Arabic.

Government leaders in Abu Dhabi now say they're considering a request from Hedges' wife for clemency.

The story highlights an issue that has arisen repeatedly in different forms: the contrast between the open, modern and tolerant image that the UAE, generally, and Dubai, in particular, seeks to project to the wider world, and what some see as the Emirates' narrow and conservative approach to security and public morality.

Is the Hedges case just a major misunderstanding? Or evidence of a larger problem of academic and political freedom in the UAE?

Presenter: Laura Kyle

Guests:

Glenmore Trenear-Harvey - Intelligence analyst, former MI6 intelligence officer 

Radha Stirling - Chief executive, Detained in Dubai campaign group

Marc Owen Jones - Friend of Matthew Hedges and lecturer at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha 

Source: Al Jazeera News