Biden urged to release civil rights lawyer with Houston ties detained in Dubai

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Houston Congressman Al Green is pressuring President Joe Biden to help release a civil rights lawyer arrested after representing murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Lawyer Asim Ghafoor, who grew up in Houston and now resides in Virginia, was arrested July 14 at an airport in the United Arab Emirates on his way to Istanbul, Reuters previously reported.

UAE officials claimed to have detained Ghafoor after convicting him in absentia of tax evasion and money laundering, The New York Times reported. Conviction in absentia means that a court found him guilty without his being physically present in court or participating in the legal proceedings. The lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison plus costs of around $80,000, according to the Emirates WAM news agency.

UAE officials said they investigated Ghafoor at the request of the United States, but later a US State Department official denied ever asking the Emiratis to detain him, according to media reports.

Ghafoor’s supporters say he is being targeted because of his past criticism of the Emirati government and his previous work helping Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

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“We are deeply concerned that an American lawyer was snatched from Dubai airport, tried in absentia and imprisoned for three years on the basis of a conviction in absentia. If this could happen to Mr. Ghafoor, without U.S. action, it could happen to others,” Green wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to Biden posted on Twitter.

Even though Ghafoor now lives in Virginia, he remains “a beloved member of Houston’s Muslim community,” as well as a respected civil rights attorney who has represented numerous Muslim charities and nonprofits targeted in the US. aftermath of September 11, according to an Aug. 4 Islamic Society of Greater Houston statement.

“We understand that for the first fourteen days of his detention, Asim was denied bail, access to his lawyers and access to his family,” the company wrote. The group called on Congress to speak out against his detention and asked the Biden administration to secure his immediate release on bail with unrestricted access to his lawyer and family.

Ghafoor was raised by his single mother in Houston, attending Olle Middle School and Alief Hastings High School, according to a website of his supporters. He attended the University of Texas for his undergraduate degree and law school, then served on staff for Ciro Rodriguez in the San Antonio area. He moved to Washington DC in the late 1990s to serve as Rodriguez’ legislative aide and eventually acting chief of staff, according to the website.

At the time, he was one of the few Muslims working on Capitol Hill. After 9/11, Ghafoor launched a civil rights practice with a focus on defending American Muslims, according to his supporters. His work eventually expanded to advocacy in the Middle East, where he defended Khashoogi.

Prior to Khashoogi’s death, the journalist teamed up with Ghafoor to launch a human rights organization called Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN), which pushed for an end to US arms sales to the Arab Emirates. united and highlighted human rights abuses in oil-rich countries. nation. Other human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say the country continues to commit serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees, suppression of freedom of expression and violation of the right to privacy.

However, in late July, a State Department spokesperson told reporters that there was “no indication at this stage that (Ghafoor’s) detention had anything to do with his association with Jamal Khashoggi,” The New York Times reported.

Nonetheless, supporters say Ghafoor’s efforts to protect human rights in the Middle East have put a target on his back.
“The UAE’s decision to detain Mr. Ghafoor – without notice or opportunity to consult with counsel – represents a gross violation of his due process rights,” Congressman Green wrote.

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Green sent the letter along with fellow Congressmen Eddie Bernice Johnson, Lloyd Doggett, Henry Cuellar, Marc Veasey, Colin Allred, Lizzie Feltcher, Randy K. Weber, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joaquin Castro, Vicente Gonzalez, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia.

The letter comes as Biden tries to curry favor with the United Arab Emirates to convince the oil-rich nation, as well as Saudi Arabia, to pump more oil at a time of high energy prices. On July 16, Biden met with the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, and invited him to visit the United States by the end of the year. And last week, the State Department approved $5.3 billion worth of defensive missile sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to media reports.

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Green pointed out that many Texas business leaders and lawyers use Dubai Airport because of the state’s ties to the energy industry.
“This situation must be resolved to ensure that members of our business and legal community can continue to travel safely through Dubai,” Green wrote.
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