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American held in UAE over video to be released

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 05:23

Minneapolis: An American who`s been held in the United Arab Emirates for nine months in connection with a satirical online video about youth culture in Dubai was expected to be released soon, the US State Department said.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, was arrested in April, six months after he and others uploaded their spoof documentary to the Internet. The video is about would-be "gangsta" youth in the Gulf Arab city-state.
The United Arab Emirates-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 under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.
In December, Cassim was sentenced to one year in prison, a fine and deportation.
Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman, said yesterday that Cassim has been moved to a deportation facility for processing.

"We understand processing will take a few days at which point he will be returning to the United States," she said in an email to a news agency.

"The protection of US citizens overseas is one of the Department of State`s highest priorities," Jhunjhunwala said. "We continue to work closely with the UAE authorities to ensure his quick release."

Rori Donaghy, director of the London-based Emirates Center for Human Rights, said Cassim`s pending release is not surprising. Although it is not codified in Emirati law, Donaghy said, it is customary for defendants who have demonstrated good behaviour to be released after serving three-fourths of their sentence.

Donaghy said Cassim and his friends never should have been imprisoned, and that authorities have continued to use the cybercrimes law to restrict free speech.

Cassim, a US 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 publicise his months-long incarceration.

Seven others were convicted with him in December. 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.

First Published: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 05:23

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