US official calls on UAE to release ex-Khashoggi lawyer after positive Covid-19 test

The US-citizen detained by UAE security agents in plainclothes on 14 July while transiting to Istanbul to attend a family wedding. 

US Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton has called on the UAE government to release the former lawyer of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who recently contracted Covid-19 behind bars.

“I am continuing to press the UAE government for answers following the arrest of Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and Virginia resident,” tweeted Representative Wexton on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Wexton wrote a letter to the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, in which she raised concerns over his medical condition. She noted Ghafoor was being quarantined per health protocols.

The US official added that Ghafoor has yet to meet with his lawyers or speak to his family, urging to facilitate avenues of communication with them via teleconferencing or phone ahead of his 1 August trial.

“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,” wrote Wexton in the latter.

Ghafoor was detained by UAE security agents in plainclothes on 14 July while transiting to Istanbul to attend a family wedding. 

The arrest took place on the eve of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he was seen fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prime Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MbS.

This is despite various investigations, including one by the CIA, that concluded that de-facto Saudi leader MbS ordered the horrific killing of Khashoggi in 2018. Separately, a 2019 UN investigation concluded that the crime was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”.

Days after the arrest, Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced the ex-lawyer to three years for alleged “crimes of money laundering and tax evasion”. 

The UAE’s press agency (WAM) reported that the Emirati court accused Ghafoor “of committing two crimes of tax evasion and money laundering related to a tax evasion operation in his country”. 

Ghafoor is also facing deportation from the country and a hefty AED 3 million fine.

The UAE claimed that the arrest came “upon the American authorities’ request for judicial assistance regarding their investigations of the accused for tax evasion and making suspicious money transfers to the state”.

However, the US said it “has not sought the arrest” and requested additional information on the case.

“The Emiratis have spoken to their rationale for the detention,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on 18 July.

DAWN calls for release

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) had repeatedly called for the release of Ghafoor, who is also a board member of the rights entity. DAWN told Doha News last week that it is waiting for more updates from Ghafoor’s attorney in the UAE.

“We are calling for respect to due process and we’re waiting to get more information before proceeding with any additional calls for the US or UAE governments,” DAWN’s Director Of Advocacy Raed Jarrar told Doha News.

Jarrar also described DAWN’s engagement with the State Department and White House as “efficient”.

At the time of his arrest, the rights group urged Biden to cancel his meeting in Saudi Arabia with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ).

Despite this, Biden met with MbZ and invited him to visit Washington. DAWN had also informed the State Department about Ghafoor’s detention two days ahead of the meeting.

“The US government has not only given a blind eye to violations by so-called allies of the US, but the US has also contributed to violations by oppressive and apartheid regimes in the region,” said Jarrar.

“The US is an active partner in crime to many of these governments in the Middle East and North Africa,” he added.

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