Biden urged to release civil rights attorney with ties to Houston detained in Dubai & More Live News

Houston Congressman Al Green is ratcheting up pressure on President Joe Biden to assist in releasing a civil rights attorney arrested after representing slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Attorney Asim Ghafoor, who grew up in Houston and now resides in Virginia, was detained on July 14 at an airport the United Arab Emirates while en route to Istanbul, Reuters previously reported. 

U.A.E. 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 a court found him guilty without him physically being present in court or participating in the legal proceedings. The attorney was sentenced to three years in prison plus about an $80,000 fee, according to Emirates News Agency WAM.

The U.A.E. officials said they investigated Ghafoor at the behest of the United States, but later a U.S. State Department official denied ever asking the Emiratis to detain him, according to media reports. 

Ghafoor’s supporters say he’s being targeted because of his prior criticism of the Emirati government and his earlier work to assist Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

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“We are deeply concerned that an American lawyer was plucked from the Dubai airport, tried in absentia, and put in jail for three years based on an absentia conviction. If this could happen to Mr. Ghafoor, without action by the United States, 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 the Houston Muslim community,” as well as a respected civil rights lawyer who represented numerous Muslim charities and nonprofits targeted in the wake of Sept. 11, according to an Aug. 4  statement from the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.

“It is our understanding that for the first fourteen days of his detainment, Asim had been denied bail, access to his lawyers, and access to his family,” the society wrote.The group called on Congress to speak out against his detention and asked the Biden administration to ensure his immediate release on bail with unrestricted access to his attorney and family

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

At the time, he was one of few Muslims working on Capitol Hill. After Sept. 11, Ghafoor launched a civil rights practice with a focus on advocacy for Muslim Americans, according to his supporters. His work eventually extended to advocacy in the Middle East, where he defended Khashoogi.

Prior to Khashoogi’s death, the journalist partnered with Ghafoor to launch a human rights organization called Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN), that encouraged an end to American arm sales in the U.A.E. and shone a light on human rights abuses in the oil-rich nation. Other human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say the country continues 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.

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