American Sentenced to Prison in UAE for Parody Video

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Shezanne Cassim (AP Photo)

Five individuals, including a U.S. citizen, have been sentenced to prison and fined for producing a parody video in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Shezanne Cassim, a Sri Lanka-born American from Minnesota, will serve one year in prison and have to pay 10,000 dirham ($2,700). The same punishment was given to two Indians who helped make the video. Two local men who also participated in the filming were jailed for eight months and fined 5,000 dirham ($1,360).


Cassim, 29, moved to Dubai in 2006 after graduating from the University of Minnesota and working as a business consultant in the aviation division of PricewaterhouseCoopers.


The video, a type of mock documentary, was intended to make fun of youth culture in Dubai. It portrayed a fictional training facility, the Satwa Combat School, which taught students how to use sandals as weapons.


The filmmakers said they wanted to satirize mild-mannered teenagers in Dubai who enjoy acting like “gangstas.”


UAE officials didn’t think the video was funny. A month after the mockumentary went up on YouTube, the UAE adopted a new cyber-crimes law that was used to punish the five individuals. Human rights groups complained that it was wrong for the UAE to apply the law retroactively to the filmmakers.


Rori Donaghy, director of the London-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, told The Telegraph: “These young film-makers are suffering the consequences of authorities who are increasingly sensitive to any form of criticism, no matter how mild. This case has laid bare problems with due legal process and restrictive internet laws in the UAE.”


The U.S. State Department spoke out about the jailing of Cassim and the others, saying the administration was “troubled” by the men’s “prolonged” detention.


A public campaign was launched in the U.S. with celebrities and public officials calling for the UAE to free Cassim. The effort included comedian Will Farrell and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Spoof Video Makers Jailed In Dubai Despite International Outcry (by Richard Spencer, The Telegraph)

Comedians Rally Behind 'U' Grad Detained In Abu Dhabi (by Corey Mitchell, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

UAE Arrests U.S. Citizen for Posting Satire Video (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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