LONDON — Matthew Hedges, the British academic who was sentenced last week to life in prison by the United Arab Emirates on spying charges, was pardoned on Monday “with immediate effect,” the Emirati government announced, after British officials lobbied to have him released.
The conviction of Mr. Hedges, and the severity of the sentence, had been met with outrage in Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May promised to raise the issue with the United Arab Emirates at the “highest level.”
Both the British government and Mr. Hedges’s wife, Daniela Tejada, have denied that he was a British spy. Family members have said that he was made to sign a confession written in Arabic, which they said he does not read or speak.
Mr. Hedges, 31, a graduate student at Durham University in England, was pardoned by Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the emir of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, the government said.
“Mr. Hedges will be permitted to leave the country once all the formalities are complete,” Jaber al-Lamki, a spokesman for the Emirati government, said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Ms. Tejada told BBC radio, “It’s taken me by surprise, and I’m just so happy and so relieved, and really incredulous that it is all happening finally.” She had previously accused the British government of not pushing hard enough to have her husband released, claiming that the British were too concerned with preserving their alliance with the Emirates.
Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, recently traveled to Abu Dhabi and discussed the case with senior officials, including the crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who is considered the de facto ruler. On Monday, Mr. Hunt wrote on Twitter: “Fantastic news about Matthew Hedges. Although we didn’t agree with charges we are grateful to UAE government for resolving issue speedily.”
Reporters at the Abu Dhabi news conference were shown a series of short video clips in which Mr. Hedges confessed to espionage, including gathering information on the Emirates’ military equipment purchases, according to several news organizations, but they were not allowed to record the video and the government did not release it.
In the video, he admitted to being an agent of MI-6, the British spy service, and gave his rank as captain, a position that does not exist in the agency, the news organizations reported.
“He was part-time Ph.D. researcher, part-time businessman, but he was 100 percent a full-time secret service operative,” Mr. Lamki said.
He said that Mr. Hedges was pardoned in response to pleas from his family and “in consideration of the historical relationship and the close ties between the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.”
Mr. Hedges, who colleagues said was conducting research for a doctorate about the effects of the Arab Spring on the United Arab Emirates’ approach to diplomacy, was arrested in May just before he was scheduled to fly out of the country.
The pardon “allows us to return our focus to the underlying fundamental strength of the U.A.E.-U.K. bilateral relationship and its importance to the international community,” said Anwar Mohammed Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, according to WAM, the state news agency. “It was always a U.A.E. hope that this matter would be resolved through the common channels of our longstanding partnership. This was a straightforward matter that became unnecessarily complex despite the U.A.E.’s best efforts.”
WAM reported that the case against Mr. Hedges was based on evidence found on his electronic devices, surveillance and intelligence gathered by Emirati agencies, and what the news agency reported was evidence Mr. Hedges himself had provided.
That evidence, WAM said, included “a corroborated account of asset recruitment and training and the confidential information being targeted.”