By Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
Shezanne Cassim of Woodbury, MN returned home from the United Arab Emirates after spending nine months in prison in Dubai for posting a documentary-style video, titled “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs,” which 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. Authorities evidently took great exception to this expression, arrested Cassim and later placed him into a maximum security prison. The arrest took place in April of 2013 and it was months before he and several co-defendants were informed of the charges. A state controlled newspaper stated he was accused of defaming the country’s image abroad. Cassim’s supporters stated he was eventually convicted of violating a 2012 Cybercrimes law prohibiting challenging of authorities.
He and seven others were convicted in December of 2013. 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.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who advocated for Cassim’s release, spoke to Cassim by phone after his arrival and welcomed him home. She said his return was “long overdue.”
“This guy has been waiting nine months for doing nothing but posting a joke video,” Klobuchar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. “It was simply a parody video poking fun at teenagers in the suburbs.”
Cassim told reporters “I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence. So to me, this verdict is meaningless,” He commented that UAE was “Scared of Democracy” and that the government used his case to send a message:
“Imagine if you do something that’s actually critical of the government,” he said. “It’s a warning message. And we’re scapegoats.”
The incident goes a long way to describe the situation in the region with regard to dissenting views or any form of speech the government or individuals in high office object to. It further shows how arbitrary the application of arrest spurred by ambiguous laws that serve to silence those who it deems a threat: and who are guilty of nothing more than what is considered ordinary in most western countries.