Human rights group says UAE has detained lawyer who represented Khashoggi

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A human rights group alleged on Friday that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) detained a lawyer that previously represented the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said in a press release that Asim Ghafoor, who is a U.S. citizen and a board member of the organization, sent a text early Thursday saying that he had been approached by two UAE security agents while he was at the airport in Dubai. Ghafoor was on his way to a family wedding in Turkey and had been waiting for his next flight.

DAWN said it also received a photo from him showing him inside a police wagon, but did not hear from him after that.

The group said in its press release it believed he had been detained “on what appears to be a politically motivated in absentia conviction.”

DAWN noted that it had also reached out to the State Department about the situation and that a senior official told it they were working on his case.

“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,” Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, said in a statement.

“We urge the Biden administration to secure the release of an arbitrarily detained American lawyer before agreeing to meet with the UAE’s leader [Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan] in Jeddah tomorrow.”

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the department was aware of Ghafoor’s arrest and had “raised his detention at senior levels with Emirati authorities.”

“We are watching his case closely and providing appropriate consular support; consular officers from the U.S. Embassy visited him today. 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,” the spokesperson said.

The Hill has reached out to the White House and UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment.

President Biden was in the Middle East this week for a multi-country trip that included stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. His trip to Saudi Arabia has been considered controversial given human rights concerns and the conclusion of U.S. intelligence that the assassination of Khashoggi was approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A photo circulated of Biden fist-bumping the Saudi crown prince, a move which drew immediate criticism from some.

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted a message she said Khashoggi would have posted in reaction to the fist-bump, reading, “Hey @POTUS, Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”

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