Five US lawmakers — two senators and three members of the House of Representatives — have pressed President Joe Biden to raise Asim Ghafoor’s detention with the highest levels of the UAE government and advocate for his fair and humane treatment.
Asim, a Virginia resident, is a US-born Muslim of South Asian origin. He is also a board member of an Arab advocacy group called Dawn — Democracy for the Arab World Now.
Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Representatives Jennifer Wexton, Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly wrote in their letter that Mr Ghafoor was “tried in absentia, detained without notice of his conviction, and sentenced to prison on to-date unsubstantiated charges by United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities.”
Asim was a close personal friend of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018. He also served as Mr Khashoggi’s legal counsel.
Asim was detained by the UAE authorities on July 14 this year while transiting Dubai International Airport, and was sentenced to three years in prison on July 16. He was transiting through Dubai to attend a wedding in Turkey when arrested.
“The UAE’s decision to detain Asim Ghafoor — without notice or opportunity to seek legal counsel — represents a gross violation of his due process rights,” the lawmakers wrote.
He became popular in the American Muslim community after 9/11, when he represented many Muslims and Arabs facing deportation and detention on various charges. From 1997 to 2000, he served as Legislative Assistant to Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez, a Texas Democrat.
Last week, US authorities rejected UAE’s claim that they had sought the lawyer’s arrest on previous charges of tax evasion and money laundering. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news briefing earlier this week that the US did not seek Mr Ghafoor’s arrest and has conveyed to the UAE its expectation that he “be afforded a fair and transparent legal process and that he be treated humanely”.
His attorney, Faisal Gill, told The Washington Post that his client had not heard anything about his conviction in the UAE before his arrest and had yet to see any documentation for the government’s charges. Mr Ghafoor was not facing any criminal charges in the United States, Mr Gill said.