Minn. man freed after being held 9 months in UAE
Published 9:36 am Thursday, January 9, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS — An American man has been released from prison in the United Arab Emirates where he had been held for nine months for posting a parody video online, a spokeswoman for his family said Thursday.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, of Woodbury, Minn., was in custody in the United Arab Emirates for nine months in connection with the video that satirized youth culture in Dubai. He was arrested in April, and had been held at a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi since June.
In a brief news release, Jennifer Gore, a spokeswoman for Cassim’s family in the U.S., said he will arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately clear when he was released from prison.
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The UAE-owned daily, The National, has said Cassim and his co-defendants were accused of defaming the country’s image abroad. Cassim’s supporters said he was charged with endangering state security under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.
He and seven others were convicted in December. Cassim was sentenced to one year in prison, a fine and deportation. The U.S. State Department said he got credit for time served and was given time off for good behavior.
Cassim, a U.S. citizen, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. He became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration.
Gulf Arab authorities have been cracking down on social media use over the past two years, with dozens of people arrested across the region for Twitter posts deemed offensive to leaders or for social media campaigns urging more political openness.
Cassim’s documentary-style video, titled “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs,” is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It opens with text saying the video is fictional and is not intended to offend.
The video pokes fun at Dubai youth who style themselves like “gangstas” and shows fictional “combat” training that includes throwing a sandal and using a mobile phone to call for help.