American imprisoned in United Arab Emirates for YouTube video

Posted Dec 24, 2013 by Scott Tuttle
On Monday, Shezanne Cassim, a U.S. citizen working in the United Arab Emirates as an aviation business consultant, was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 UAE dirhams (about $2,700) for posting a spoof video on YouTube.
Abu Dhabi
A view of the city skyline in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
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Cassim, 29, from Woodbury, Minnesota, was arrested and imprisoned back in April for posting a 20-minute video on YouTube poking fun at a social clique of Dubai teens who try to mimic American hip-hop culture.
The video begins with a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and not intended to offend anyone. According to Cassim's brother, Shervon, "It was just for fun. It was -- he's a big fan of sketch comedies. He's a big fan of 'SNL,' 'Funny or Die,' all those shows, and he and his friends just wanted to make a funny sketch comedy in their spare time."
The Gulf nation recently issued a new set of cyber crime laws including posting content on the internet that tarnishes the nation's reputation abroad or threatens the national security. According to the court's ruling, Cassim's video violated this new law.
As Cassim waits behind the bars of a federal prison situated in the harsh desert lands outside of Abu Dhabi, his attorneys, his family, and U.S. politicians are trying find a way to secure his release. Aside from having a representative in Minneapolis and a representative in Dubai working in conjunction, members of Minnesota's Congress have filed a request to Secretary of State John Kerry for federal intervention.
“The authorities have never stated why they feel this is a breach or a danger to national security. Shezanne has not been allowed to say anything in court,” said Jennifer Gore, a legal consultant representing Cassim's family.
Those fighting on Cassim's behalf are trying to find if he is the first to be accused of and/or sentenced for violating this new cyber law, which might suggest that he was given a harsh sentence in order to make an example.
It is unclear to Cassim's family whether or not his one-year sentence will include the nine months he has already served since his arrest in April.
UAE law does not automatically grant Cassim the right to an appeal.