The US president has been heavily criticised around the world for fist bumping the Saudi crown prince despite allegations against him.
United Arab Emirates security agents have detained the former lawyer of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Dubai International Airport on what appears to be a “politically motivated in absentia” conviction.
UAE authorities restrained lawyer Asim Ghafoor, who is also a board member of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), in the absence of any public evidence to support a conviction obtained without due process, the rights group said.
Ghafoor is an American civil rights attorney based in Virginia who previously served as a lawyer for the late Khashoggi as well as his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz.
DAWN has since released a statement demanding the UAE to immediately free Ghafoor and called on US President Joe Biden to refuse to hold a scheduled meeting in Saudi Arabia with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, or MbZ.
Biden is currently in the Middle East for a GCC summit with regional leaders.
“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,” she added.
Ghafoor arrived at the Dubai airport for a transit flight from the US to Istanbul on 14 July to attend a family wedding.
At 11:49 AM GMT+3 that day Ghafoor sent a text message, sharing that “two plainclothes UAE security agents had approached him at the Dubai International Airport while he waited for his flight to Istanbul,” DAWN reported.
UAE security agents told him they need to take him to Abu Dhabi “to clear a case against him,” before then transporting him to Abu Dhabi aboard a police wagon.
DAWN confirmed it lost contact with Ghafoor shortly after receiving a picture of himself in the wagon.
“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.”
Experts have called out the perceived “hypocrisy” by the American leader, which journalists and rights advocates said further emboldens the double standard nature of US leaders who turn a blind eye to events that do not serve the interest of Washington.
“When ‘leaders of the free world’ continue giving a green light to despots and autocrats and fist bump those who murder and dismember journalists, more innocent people pay the price,” an Al Jazeera journalist said on Twitter.
Experts have further shed light on Abu Dhabi’s ‘intolerance’ towards any form of opposition as well as its “abusive legal system,” saying: “UAE prove to be just as authoritarian as Saudi that always consumes all the criticism.”
Multiple human rights organisations have documented the “abusive” legal system in the UAE, despite “misleading claims of reform,” DAWN said.
“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 considered one of the world’s biggest abusers of the Interpol system, “misusing the system’s Red Notices to stop and arrest its critics throughout the world,” the report read.
UAE Inspector General Ahmed Nasser Al Raisi was recently elected as Interpol president despite being accused of torture allegations.
Human rights in Saudi Arabia
Human rights was a high priority for members of press who questioned Biden’s apparent switch in stance with regards to Saudi Arabia on Friday, especially following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Biden said the matter was a top concern during his meeting with MbS.
“I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly: For an American President to be silent on an issue of human rights, is this consistent with — inconsistent with who we are and who I am? I’ll always stand up for our values,” said Biden.
Multiple investigations, including one by the CIA, concluded de-facto Saudi leader MbS ordered the killing of the dissident back in 2018.
Separately, a 2019 UN probe concluded that the crime was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution.”
“[MbS] said he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated that he probably was. He said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible,” Biden told the press in Saudi Arabia on Friday.
The same US president had pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah”.
Saudi Arabia has appeared to transform its status, from Washington’s perspective, from having “no redeeming social value” to being a “strategic partner” of the US, as Biden scrambles for energy securement amid drastically surging oil prices.
DAWN and Cengiz are currently in litigation against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MbS and Saudi operatives labelled as “co-conspirators” for the killing of Khashoggi. The case is before Judge John D. Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
On 1 July, Judge Bates issued an order for Washington to declare whether it intended to provide a statement of interest on the case by 1 August, particularly if 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 31 August.