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Britain 'optimistic' about case of academic jailed in UAE

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves after attending the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in London on November 13, 2018. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street in London on November 13 2018 [TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images]

Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday he was optimistic that progress could be made in the case of Matthew Hedges, a British academic jailed for life in the United Arab Emirates on spying charges on Wednesday.

"I am more optimistic as we sit here now that we can find a way through this," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr show. "The UAE is a very longstanding friend of the UK and I've had very good conversations with their foreign minister; I am going to speak to him again this afternoon."

Hunt was also asked if there were any grounds for optimism in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 in Tehran as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.

She was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organisation that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Read: UK universities boycott UAE over student 'spying' conviction

"I think that's more challenging," Hunt said on Sunday. "I was in Tehran on Monday, and I asked to meet Nazanin. I wasn't allowed to but I did meet her daughter."

Hunt said he had urged Iran to provide medical assistance to Zaghari-Ratcliffe and to another unnamed citizen in a similar situation.

He said it was "totally and utterly unacceptable" for Iran to "start locking up innocent people as a tool of diplomatic leverage."

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