President Biden Should Refuse to Meet with UAE Leaders during Middle East Visit until Ghafoor Is Released
(Washington, D.C., July 15, 2022) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) security agents have detained U.S. citizen and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) Board Member Asim Ghafoor at the Dubai International Airport on what appears to be a politically motivated in absentia conviction.
In the absence of any public evidence to support a conviction obtained without due process, DAWN demands that the UAE immediately release Ghafoor and urges President Biden to cancel a scheduled meeting in Saudi Arabia with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ).
"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, Executive Director of DAWN. "We urge the Biden administration to secure the release of an arbitrarily detained American lawyer before agreeing to meet with the UAE's leader MBZ in Jeddah tomorrow."
Ghafoor, a civil rights attorney based in Virginia who previously served as a lawyer for Jamal Khashoggi as well as his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, arrived in Dubai from the United States on July 14, where he was in transit to Istanbul to attend a family wedding. Ghafoor sent a text message at 4:49 a.m. EST that day, saying that two plainclothes UAE security agents had approached him at the Dubai International Airport while he waited for his flight to Istanbul. The security agents detained Ghafoor and informed him that they needed to take him to Abu Dhabi "to clear a case against him." They then transported Ghafoor in a police wagon to Abu Dhabi. Ghafoor sent a picture of himself in the police wagon, and DAWN lost contact with Ghafoor after receiving this picture.
DAWN informed the State Department about Ghafoor's detention on July 14. A senior State Department official assured DAWN they were working to resolve this matter. According to U.S. consular officials who say they met with him today, the UAE is now detaining Ghafoor in an Abu Dhabi Criminal Investigative Division detention facility on charges related to an in absentia conviction for "money laundering." Ghafoor has stated that he had no knowledge of any legal matter against him and no reason to believe he was involved in any legal dispute in the UAE. Ghafoor transited through the Dubai International Airport without incident less than a year ago.
"Detaining Ghafoor on the basis of an in absentia conviction without providing him any information, notice, or opportunity to defend against himself is a flagrant violation of his due process rights," said Whitson. "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, which has highlighted UAE human rights abuses and urged an end to arms sales to the country."
Ghafoor was a lawyer for and close personal friend of the late Jamal Khashoggi, as well as his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, and is a co-founder of DAWN, where he serves as a Board Member. DAWN and Hatice Cengiz are currently in litigation against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi operatives named as co-conspirators for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. This case is before Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On July 1, 2022, Judge Bates issued an order for the U.S. government to declare whether it intended to provide a statement of interest on the case by August 1, in particular, on whether it would seek immunity for the Crown Prince, and to submit the statement by August 16 if it intended to do so. The Court will hear oral argument for motion to dismiss on August 31.
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. UAE Inspector General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi was recently elected Interpol president even though he faces allegations of torture.