A Missouri-born lawyer who was raised in Texas and now lives with his wife and three children in Virginia has been detained by United Arab Emirates (UAE) security agents what appears to be a politically motivated in absentia conviction.
Asim Ghafoor, a U.S. citizen who previously represented Jamal Khashoggi and serves on the board of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), was detained at Dubai airport on Thursday while traveling to Istanbul for a family wedding.
Ghafoor is now being held in a detention facility on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering.
Ghafoor had no prior knowledge of any conviction, according to the human rights group.
Ghafoor was a close personal friend of Khashoggi, as well as his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, who he is currently representing in litigation against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 28 other top Saudi officials responsible for the killing of the Washington Post columnist.
“We are aware of the arrest of U.S. citizen Asim Ghafoor in the UAE,” said a State Department spokesperson. “We have raised his detention at senior levels with Emirati authorities and requested additional information.”
“We are watching his case closely and providing appropriate consular support; consular officers from the U.S. Embassy visited him today,” said the spokesperson. “We have conveyed our expectation that Mr. Ghafoor’s rights to a fair and public hearing and to fair trial guarantees be fully respected and that he be treated humanely, as well as that U.S. rights to consular access be fully respected.”
“We are outraged at the unjustified detention of our board member and extremely concerned for his health and physical security given the well-documented record of abuse in the UAE, including torture and inhuman treatment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of DAWN.
Consular officers from the US Embassy visited with Ghafoor Saturday.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a columnist for the Washington Post who was critical of Saudi rulers, was killed at a consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.
The US declassified an intelligence report that concluded Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.
In June 2018, just months before his October 2, 2018 murder, Khashoggi and a group of like-minded friends founded DAWN.
A tweet from Biden said, “I look forward to another period of strong and growing cooperation between the U.S. and UAE under President Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership. The opportunities and challenges we face today make it important as ever that we spend more time together.”
Numerous human rights organizations have documented the abusive legal system in the UAE, despite misleading claims of reform.
UAE officials routinely use the country’s legal system to intimidate, persecute, and punish its critics, including using claims of unpaid debt to ban foreign nationals from leaving the country or accessing health care.
The UAE is also one of the world’s largest abusers of the Interpol system, misusing the system’s Red Notices to stop and arrest its critics throughout the world.