United Arab Emirates authorities have detained Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and civil rights attorney who previously served as a lawyer for slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said US-based rights group DAWN of whose board Ghafoor is a member.
A senior US administration official, when asked on Saturday by reporters about the detention, said the United States was aware, but could not say whether President Joe Biden would raise the issue in planned bilateral talks with the UAE president on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.
"Certainly I think we have points on that about the importance of consular access and everything else," the official said, adding "there's no indication that it has anything to do with the Khashoggi issue."
Saudi journalist Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents in 2018 at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in an operation that US intelligence says Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved. The prince denies involvement.
UAE authorities did not immediately respond on the weekend to a Reuters request for comment regarding Ghafoor's detention.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said in a statement on Friday that Ghafoor, a civil rights attorney based in Virginia, was detained on July 14 at Dubai airport en route to Istanbul to attend a family wedding.
It cited US consular officials as saying he was being held in a detention facility in Abu Dhabi on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering, but that Ghafoor stated he had no knowledge of any legal matter against him.
"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 (Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed) in Jeddah," DAWN said.
Biden has said he would raise human rights during his trip.
Not the first time
Rights groups say the UAE has jailed hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers in unfair trails on broad charges.
The UAE has rejected such accusations as baseless and says it is committed to human rights under the country's charters.