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UAE frees American jailed for YouTube parody video

Reuters | Last Updated: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 10:22

Dubai: A US citizen who spent nine months in jail in the United Arab Emirates for posting a parody video on YouTube, was released and returned home to the United States on Thursday.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, was sentenced to a year in prison in the Gulf Arab state last month on cybercrime charges over a 20-minute "mockumentary" video that poked fun at young Emirati men who imitate US hip-hop culture.

Cassim had been detained since April and his family said in a statement that he had been released "according to a customary practice that equates nine months of imprisonment to a one-year sentence."
Cassim, who is from Minnesota, told a news conference after he arrived at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport on Thursday that he had broken no laws.

"I did nothing wrong," he said. "There was nothing illegal about the video even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court and I was convicted without any evidence."

Cassim said he was held with limited information in a prison with few facilities and was not told what crime he was accused of until about five months after he was apprehended.

"It`s a warning message and we are scapegoats," he said.
There was no immediate comment from UAE authorities.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department welcomed Cassim`s release.

"We`ve consistently raised this issue about his arrest and trial specifically with UAE officials," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing. "We have continuously pressed for a fair and expedient resolution as we were deeply concerned by the verdict."

In the video posted on Google Inc`s YouTube in 2012, Emirati men were jokingly described as "deadly gangsters" and can be seen practicing throwing sandals and wielding an agal - the cord used to keep in place traditional Arab headscarves.

The video opened with a disclaimer stating it was fictional and did not intend to offend the people of the UAE.

Cassim, an aviation business consultant, was charged with violating UAE`s cybercrimes law, which makes acts deemed damaging to the country`s reputation or national security punishable by fines and jail time. Cassim was also fined 10,000 dirhams.

Last year, an Abu Dhabi court jailed a man for two years for tweeting about a political trial, highlighting the sensitivity of Gulf Arab states to political dissent, criticism of senior officials and comments which they regard as blasphemous, especially on social media.

First Published: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 10:22
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