The United Arab Emirates (UAE) arrested a prominent US lawyer who had once represented slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi,, according to reports.
Civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor, who is a US citizen, was detained by UAE security agents at Dubai airport even as US President Joe Biden was travelling in the region to hold key talks with the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Significantly, the murder of Khashoggi had uncomfortably cropped up in the talks between Biden and Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Democracy for the Arab World Now
Ghafoor, a Virginia-based attorney, is a member of the US-based rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn. The group said in a statement that Ghafoor was arrested when he landed in Dubai on his way to Istanbul, where he was headed to attend a wedding.
According to Dawn, the arrest of the lawyer was "politically motivated."
Ghafoor was detained by plainclothes officers at the airport as he waited for his flight. The police then took him to Abu Dhabi in a police wagon. Dawn said Ghafoor texted colleagues about the arrest but later they lost contact with him.
"Detaining Ghafoor on the basis of an in absentia conviction without providing him any information, notice, or opportunity to defend himself against is a flagrant violation of his due process rights," Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn's executive director, said. according to the Middle East Eye.
"Whatever trumped up legal pretext the UAE has cooked up for detaining Ghafoor, it smacks of politically motivated revenge for his association with Khashoggi and DAWN," Whitson added.
A Biden administration official told Reuters that the government was aware of the arrest but stressed that there was no indication that the arrest was related to the murder of Khashoggi.
Represented Khashoggi's Fiancee Hatic Cengiz
Ghafoor had represented Khashoggi's fiancee Hatic Cengiz, who spearheaded the legal challenge against the journalist's killing.
The rights group has confirmed that Ghafoor is no being held at the Criminal Investigative Division detention facility in Abu Dhabi. He was arrested on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering.
Ghafoor has reportedly stated that he does not know anything about the money laundering charges.
Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The journalist was lured to the consulate in Istanbul and was killed by a team of high-level Saudi operatives who dismembered his body.
UN human rights investigator Agnes Callamard said in 2019 that Saudi Arabia carried out a "deliberate, premeditated execution" of Khashoggi. "There is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the crown prince demanding further investigation," said Callamard, calling for further investigation.
Following international pressure, Saudi Arabia eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed by the intelligence operatives but argued that the killing was the result of an extradition operation that went wrong.
Khashoggi, 59, was the most powerful journalist in Saudi Arabia at one point of time and was very close to the ruling family. However the ascendancy of Prince Mohammed bin Salman changed the equations and he ended up being a critic of the establishment. Khashoggi had gone into exile, fearing arrest in the kingdom.