The British student jailed for allegedly spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) says his interrogators asked him to become a double agent and steal government secrets during his five-month detention in an Abu Dhabi jail.
Matthew Hedges, 31, was arrested at Dubai Airport on 5 May and last month was handed a life sentence after the state released a video of him purportedly confessing to being a member of MI6.
He returned to the UK last week thanks to a successful campaign by his wife Daniela Tejada for the UK government to intervene, which saw Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt help secure a presidential pardon.
In his first interview since being freed, Mr Hedges told The Times that while behind bars he was repeatedly asked to work for the UAE and “steal information from the Foreign Office”.
He said the interrogations he was subjected to would sometimes go on for up to 15 hours, during which he was threatened with rendition to an overseas military base, where he would be beaten.
The Durham University PhD student also told the newspaper that he was often forced to stand in ankle cuffs for days on end and was also given dangerous levels of medication that forced him to go “cold turkey”.
He said his treatment “felt like torture” – but still had no clue as to why he had been targeted by the UAE and questioned whether the UK government should still consider the kingdom as an ally.
He advised Downing Street to “assess its values”, adding: “Is it putting trade, is it putting finance, is it putting anything else over the values it stands for?”
Mr Hedges, a Middle Eastern studies specialist, added that he did not believe the research he was carrying out in the country for his thesis was the reason for his arrest.
He said he thought he had been followed throughout his trip and that his phone had been bugged.
Despite being thankful for the eventual intervention by Mr Hunt, Mr Hedges said the Foreign Office had not debriefed him on his ordeal since returning to the UK.
Mr Hunt tweeted last week: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE govt for resolving issue speedily.”
His release came after Ms Tejada told Sky News she was “hopeful” a plea for clemency to the UAE would secure his release, even though he had been handed a life sentence.