US rights groups warn against travel to UAE
Rights groups in the United States are warning civil society activists against travelling or transiting through the United Arab Emirates after the detention of US civil rights attorney Asim Ghafoor.
Ghafoor, a Virginia-based civil rights lawyer who represented murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and serves on the board of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), was arrested while transiting through the UAE earlier this month while on his way to a family wedding in Istanbul.
In a public statement, DAWN said Ghafoor's detention was based on "politically motivated" charges.
"UAE officials routinely use the country's legal system to intimidate, persecute, and punish its critics," the pro-democracy and human rights group stated.
The UAE portrayed Ghafoor's arrest as a coordinated move with the US to "combat transnational crimes", saying authorities in the US had requested Emirati help with an investigation into Ghafoor's alleged tax evasion and suspicious money transfers in the autocratic country.
Emirati authorities then sentenced Ghafoor to three years in prison on charges of money laundering and tax evasion.
Contrary to the UAE government's explanation of the arrest, the US said it had not sought Ghafoor's arrest.
Still, there is concern over the US government's involvement with its allies' human rights abuses, whether by complicity or more intentional.
"Our fear is that the UAE might be involved in extraordinary rendition," Nihad Away, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The New Arab. "They said they did it in coordination with the US, and the UAE media continued to make that connection with the US government."
"We're calling on the president to protect American citizens," he emphasised.
"So far, what Biden is telling the world is that the lives of American citizens are worthless when it comes to allies, contrary to the political platform he won on and his promises."
Concerns continue to grow over Ghafoor's arrest, with a letter signed by Virginia senators and representatives sent to US President Joe Biden on Friday urging the administration to focus its attention on the case. Though they welcomed the State Department's statement saying they had not sought the arrest, they said that it "raises concerns about oversight of US involvement in that partnership."
According to Amnesty International's latest report on the UAE, "The government continued to commit serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees, suppression of freedom of expression, and violation of the right to privacy."