Skip to main content

US congresswoman calls on UAE to release detained Khashoggi lawyer Asim Ghafoor

Jennifer Wexton raises concerns over reports Ghafoor has contracted Covid-19
Ghafoor was arrested on 14 July by Emirati authorities while transiting through Abu Dhabi on his way to attend a wedding in Istanbul, Turkey.
Ghafoor was arrested on 14 July by Emirati authorities while transiting through Abu Dhabi on his way to attend a wedding in Istanbul, Turkey (Democracy for the Arab World Now)
By in
Washington

A US congresswoman from Virginia is calling on Abu Dhabi to release Asim Ghafoor, a former lawyer for slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while he awaits trial.

Ghafoor has been detained in the United Arab Emirates for several weeks.

Jennifer Wexton, who represents the 10th district of Virginia, sent a letter to the Emirati ambassador to Washington on Tuesday, and raised concerns that Ghafoor "recently tested positive for Covid-19" and that he was being quarantined per health protocols.

"We understand that since this time Mr Ghafoor has been unable to meet with his attorneys and that an attempt by US officials to reach him via telephone was unsuccessful," the letter said.

"These circumstances severely limit Mr Ghafoor's ability to adequately defend himself at his retrial, which is set to begin on August 1, after he was convicted in-absentia in the UAE.

"I respectfully request that you allow Mr Ghafoor immediate access to his attorneys and ensure that the US embassy is able to monitor his care while he is being treated for Covid-19."

Ghafoor is an attorney and civil rights advocate for American Muslims and has represented a number of clients accused by the US of terrorism.

'I respectfully request that you allow Mr Ghafoor immediate access to his attorneys'

- Jennifer Wexton

On 14 July, he was arrested by Emirati authorities while transiting through Abu Dhabi on his way to attend a wedding in Istanbul, Turkey.

According to Emirati reports, the UAE arrested Ghafoor on charges related to an in-absentia conviction for money laundering pursuant to evidence.

However, the rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), of which Ghafoor sits on the board, said he was being held "on what appears to be a politically motivated in absentia conviction".

The US State Department stated shortly after news of the arrest emerged that it was seeking more information from Emirati authorities, and has also paid multiple visits to Ghafoor in the Emirates.

However, Wexton's letter raises concerns that there has since been a gap in communication since Ghafoor reportedly contracted Covid-19.

The congresswoman is also a part of a cadre of Virginia lawmakers - including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Congressmen Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly - who sent US President Joe Biden a letter, pressing him to raise Ghafoor's case with the UAE.

The lawmakers called on the Biden administration to "clarify the nature of the United States' potential involvement" in the arrest.

While the State Department dismissed any claim that it sought the lawyer's arrest, the group of legislators said that "absent concrete evidence of Ghafoor's alleged criminal behavior, the UAE’s repeated claim that this arrest was conducted in coordination with the United States government in order to 'combat transnational crimes,' raises concerns about oversight of US involvement in that partnership."

The Emirati embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment on whether it has received Wexton's letter and if it plans to issue a response.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.