“The Emiratis have spoken to their rationale for the detention,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington. “We have requested additional information from our Emirati partners and we’re watching this case closely."
Ghafoor sits on the board of Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, and was a close friend of Khashoggi, the dissident writer and Washington Post columnist dismembered by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018. He previously represented Khashoggi as well as his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
DAWN focuses on human rights violations in Gulf Arab autocracies including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where dissent is outlawed.
Price said the State Department has “seen no indication at this point that his detention has anything to do with his association with Jamal Khashoggi,” but cautioned the U.S. was “still gathering information.”
He referred reporters to Emirati authorities to speak to the basis of the still-murky charges against Ghafoor. Many foreigners have landed in prison in the UAE after falling foul of the federation’s strict legal system based on Islamic law. Even the smallest debts can lead to years in prison.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Price added that the U.S. has raised Ghafoor's detention “with senior levels of the Emirati government” and provided consular support, with American officials visiting Ghafoor most recently on Sunday and attending his virtual hearing on Monday.
“We have conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr. Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he’d be afforded a fair and transparent legal process, and that he’d be treated humanely," Price said.
Associated Press writer Matt Lee in Washington contributed.