Jailed academic Matthew Hedges arrives in London from UAE
British academic Matthew Hedges has arrived back in London, after receiving a pardon for a life sentence in the UAE in a case that courted controversy.
"I don't know where to begin with thanking people for securing my release," Hedges said in the statement.
"I have not seen or read much of what has been written over the past few days but Dani tells me the support has been incredible."
His wife Daniela Tejada and other members of Hedges' family also welcomed his return.
Hedges' family said that Hedges arrived "safely" to London on Tuesday, a day after his surprise presidential pardon.
"After almost seven months of detention, including six months in solitary confinement, British PhD researcher, Matthew Hedges, has returned safely back to London. He was welcomed by his wife Daniela and members of his family," his family said in a statement.
A Reuters photographer reported that a plane carrying Hedges arrived at Heathrow Airport from Dubai early Tuesday morning.
Hedges' wife, Daniela Tejada, welcomed his return, after a months' long campaign for his release.
"I am so happy to have my Matt home. We are overjoyed and exhausted! Matt and I, as well as his family, really need some time to process everything that we have been through," Tajeda said.
"No one should ever have to go through what he did and it will take him time to heal and recover. He is very overwhelmed. To say we are happy is an understatement."
Hedges thanked the British embassy in the UAE, the Foreign Office and his wife.
"She is so brave and strong. Seeing her and my family after this ordeal is the best thing that could have happened," Hedges said.
"I thank you all once again. This is very surreal."
Hedges was among 700 prisoners pardoned by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan for National Day.
The UAE accused him of being an MI6 foreign intelligence agent, an accusation strongly denied by the UK and his family.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed Abu Dhabi's decision to pardon Hedges, but said that he was still unhappy with the UAE's refusal to rebuke the allegations of spying.
Hedges was detained on 5 May, after researching the UAE's foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.
He was convicted of spying for a foreign country and despite Monday's pardon, Abu Dhabi has still stood by its claim that Hedges was an MI6 agent.
This claim has been strongly denied by the UK, with Hedges' detention leading to a fracas between London and Abu Dhabi - two traditional allies.
Academics and human rights groups in the UK have welcomed Hedges release but called for the UAE to review its treatment of researchers and journalists.
A number of British universities cut ties with the UAE over the case, with Durham University staff being advised not to travel to the Gulf state.
Hedges' detention follows a spate of arrests in the Middle East following the Arab Spring of academics, activists and journalists.
Chris Doyle, director of Caabu (Council for Arab-British Understanding) said Hedges' pardon offers an opportunity for governments in the region to rethink their clampdown on freedoms.
"Today is the day for celebrating the release of Matthew Hedges, and our thoughts are with his wife Daniela and his family. It is vital that he is allowed time and space to recover fully from this ordeal that has lasted since early May," he said.
"Going forward, it is vital that we work to ensure freedom of space for journalists, academics and researchers in the Middle East and elsewhere. The space for freedom of expression has shrunk in recent years and this needs to be addressed. The great crises and traumas in the Middle East will never be resolved if debate and free thought is trampled upon. It is a necessary part of the solution."