An American man who created a parody video has been sentenced to one year in jail in the UAE. The court ruled that the video was a threat to national security.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, was also fined about $2,700 for the video that was meant to be funny. He has been in the United Arab Emirates jail since April.
The video, which is just 19 minutes in length, made fun of teens in Dubai who find themselves influenced by the culture of hip-hop. The group tend to act tougher than they are, due to the influence of rap and hip-hop stars around the world. The parody was a “training video” to help turn the teens into the wannabe “gangsters” by teaching them about using clothing accessories for whips or calling for backup.
While Cassim was charged with endangering national security, there has been no confirmation over which part of the parody video caused that. The charges were not even read in court.
Cassim’s family explain that the 29-year-old waiting five months to know about the charges against him. During that time, he had been imprisoned and interrogated. He was moved to an Abu Dhabi maximum security prison.
Cassim acted on the video with at least seven others. The seven also arrested and charged for the threat to national security were also present in court. They were fined and sentenced, similar to the one-year jail term the American man will get in the UAE for their part in the parody video.
The 29-year-old moved to Dubai after graduating from his degree program in 2006. He attended the University of Minnesota, which was the same state that he grew up in. However, he was born in Sri Lanka. He has been at the center of the case for the last eight months due to his family’s actions. They took to the global media to explain how he was being incarcerated for months, and did not even know the reasons why at first.
The case was originally heard in November. However, the parody video had to be translated into Arabic from English so the judge could understand the context. Cassim’s brother, Shervon Cassim, stated that it has taken seven months to realize that they do not understand the video and that “there is really no explanation for what has happened.”
The other seven men are of different nationalities, including two from India and two from the Emirates. They are some of the first men to face criminal convictions since the release of the new cyber crime legislation, and are likely being used as an example to others who think about doing something similar.
According to UAE officials, the parody video violates some of the cyber crime laws in the country. However, Cassim’s family point out that these laws were passed after the video was posted online. It was not clear that this type of comedy video was against any local laws at the time of the posting. There was certainly no indication to the American that the parody video would mean he would get a one-year jail sentence in the UAE.
By Alexandria Ingham