The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has detained a US citizen and civil rights attorney who served as the lawyer for the assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a human rights group has revealed.
In a statement yesterday by the group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), it announced that the Virginia-based civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor was detained by Emirati authorities at Dubai airport on 14 July, while he was en route to Istanbul to attend a family wedding.
The statement cited US consular officials as saying that Ghafoor was being held in a detention facility in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, on charges related to a conviction in absentia for money laundering. The accused, however, has reportedly stated that he was unaware of any legal issues against him.
Ghafoor – who was the lawyer for Khashoggi and his fiancée Hatice Cengiz following Saudi agents' killing of the journalist in Istanbul in October 2018 – alerted contacts early on Thursday by text message that two plainclothes Emirati security agents approached him at the airport while he waited for his flight. They then told him that they had to take him to Abu Dhabi "to clear a case against him".
DAWN's Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson stressed in the statement that "Detaining Ghafoor on the basis of an in absentia conviction without providing him any information, notice, or opportunity to defend against himself is a flagrant violation of his due process rights." She added that the UAE's provision of a legal pretext simply represents "politically motivated revenge for his association with Khashoggi and DAWN, which has highlighted UAE human rights abuses and urged an end to arms sales to the country."
Whitson and DAWN called on "the Biden administration to secure the release of an arbitrarily detained American lawyer before agreeing to meet with the UAE's leader MBZ [Mohammed bin Zayed] in Jeddah."
According to Reuters news agency, a senior US administration official was asked today by reporters about Ghafoor's detention, to which they revealed that Washington is aware of the issue. The official did not say whether President Joe Biden would raise the matter with the UAE leadership on the side-lines of the Arab summit taking place in Jeddah today.
"Certainly I think we have points on that about the importance of consular access and everything else," the official said. They added, however, that "there's no indication that it has anything to do with the Khashoggi issue."