Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested an American citizen and civil rights lawyer who previously served as a lawyer for slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to an official and a United States-based rights group.
A UAE government official confirmed to the Reuters news agency on Saturday that Asim Ghafoor was arrested while transiting through Dubai airport on July 14 following an in absentia conviction for money laundering.
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A US official earlier on Saturday said Washington was aware of the arrest, but could not say whether President Joe Biden would raise the issue in bilateral talks with the UAE president on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.
“There’s no indication that it has anything to do with the Khashoggi issue,” the US official said.
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in an operation the US intelligence says was approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). MBS denies involvement.
Rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), of which Ghafoor is a board member, said in a statement on Friday the Virginia-based civil rights lawyer was en route to Istanbul to attend a family wedding when he was arrested.
The Emirati official told Reuters the UAE has granted a request by the US embassy to conduct a consular visit to Ghafoor. He added that since the original trial was held in absentia, Ghafoor is permitted to request a retrial.
“A request has been received and granted, resulting in the case being reopened, and the relevant legal proceedings are under way,” the official said.
DAWN cited US consular officials as saying the lawyer was being held in a detention facility in Abu Dhabi. The group also said Ghafoor had no knowledge of any legal case against him.
It said the conviction was obtained “without due process” and called for his immediate release.
Global rights groups say the UAE has jailed hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers in unfair trials on broad charges.
The UAE has rejected the accusations as baseless, saying it is committed to human rights.