(Reuters) – Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have detained Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and civil rights lawyer who previously served as a lawyer for slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based human rights group DAWN said. whose board of directors Ghafoor is a member of.
A senior US administration official, when asked by reporters on Saturday about the detention, said the US was aware but could not say whether President Joe Biden would raise the issue in planned bilateral talks with the Emirati president. United Arabs on the sidelines of an Arab summit. in Saudi Arabia.
“Certainly I think we have points about the importance of consular access and everything else,” the official said, adding that “there is no indication that it has anything to do with the Khashoggi issue.”
Saudi journalist Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in an operation that US intelligence says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved. The prince denies his involvement.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates did not immediately respond over the weekend to a Reuters request for comment on Ghafoor’s detention.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said in a statement on Friday that Ghafoor, a Virginia-based civil rights lawyer, was detained on July 14 at the Dubai airport while en route to Istanbul to attend a family wedding. .
It quoted US consular officials as saying he was being held at a detention center in Abu Dhabi on charges related to an absentee money laundering conviction, but that Ghafoor said he was unaware of any legal matters against him.
“We urge the Biden administration to secure the release of an arbitrarily detained American lawyer before agreeing to meet with the leader of the United Arab Emirates MBZ (Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed) in Jeddah,” DAWN said.
Biden has said he will speak on human rights during his trip.
Human rights groups say the UAE has jailed hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers in unfair trials on sweeping charges.
The United Arab Emirates has rejected such accusations as baseless and says it is committed to human rights under the country’s statutes.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Mark Potter)